Unlock 5G speeds and low latencies with high-performance DPI for ultra-fast networks

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By Tobias Roeder
Published on: 01.12.2020

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Categories: 5G

One of the key decision factors in deploying deep packet inspection (DPI) and choosing a solution that best fits one’s network needs, is cost. Cost-per-transmitted-bit for example, evaluates how much operators are paying for a fixed amount of data processed by their network. This evaluation is particularly important in 5G, where traffic is expected to record phenomenal growth rates over the coming years. According to Ericsson, global mobile data traffic reached around 33 EB per month in 2019 and it’s expected to grow by almost a factor of 5 to reach 164EB per month in 2025.1 With 5G devices making their debut, and with 5G networks being rapidly deployed in key markets, the much touted 5G use cases from cloud gaming to remote surgery to HD video streaming are expected to load the network with new streams of heavy data flows. To meet this demand, network operators need DPI solutions that can be scaled up in real time, without huge outlays in the form of re-investments and continuous upgrades.

Delivering new 5G

In 5G, ultra-reliable low-latency (URLLC) use cases such as industrial automation, remote healthcare and autonomous driving demand that networks deliver latencies lower than 1 ms. Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) and Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) use cases demand peak downlink data speeds and user-experienced speeds of 20 Gbit/s and 100 Mbit/s, respectively. Any user plane functions (UPF) deployed between the N6 interface and the 5G user equipment (UE) must process traffic at these latencies and speeds, because the slightest processing delays may result in a disastrous impact on the operator’s SLAs.

The processing capabilities of DPI libraries embedded into UPFs consequently become a major requirement in order to accommodate 5G service classes. With 5G, a network-wide upgrade of the underlying computing capacity is inevitable. However, what often baffles operators, is figuring out the exact upgrade requirements needed to support new 5G traffic volumes and the lower latencies, and ensuring that those upgrades meet the overall 5G network performance needs.

CPU capacity and DPI performance

We decided that the best way to put the uncertainties around capacity upgrades to rest, specifically for DPI, is to quantify the impact of different deployment options on state-of-the-art x86 server hardware. To do so, we collaborated with Intel® Network Builders on a series of tests that took place a few weeks ago. The following tests were executed on an Intel server board (Intel® Server System R2208WFQZS) powered by two Intel Xeon Scalable Gold 6230N processors (0x500002c), with 384 GB of memory (24 16 GB 2666 DDR4 memory modules), two 512 GB SSD M.2 SATA 3.0 drives along with four Intel SSD DC P4510 Series 1.0TB SSD PCIe NVMe 3.0 drives. Networking was provided by four Intel® Ethernet Network Adapter XXV710-DA2 dual port 25 GbE Ethernet controllers.

Impact of NUMA alignment on DPI performance

While superior server processing capabilities amplify the throughput metrics of DPI, there are a number of other variables, related to server capacity, that play an important role in determining the DPI performance. Processing capability is also dictated by the processor’s architectural features. One such feature is Non-Uniform Memory Access (NUMA). NUMA is part of a shared memory architecture that defines the positioning of a server’s main memory modules in relation to its processors, in a multi-processor system.

During the lab test, we extended our testing to assess the impact of NUMA alignment on the performance of R&S®PACE 2. Again, we deployed Intel® Xeon® Gold 6230N CPUs. Our objective is to illustrate how NUMA misalignment –vs- misalignment affects DPI throughput.

We ran the test using both scenarios – one, where we used the ability of R&S®PACE 2 APIs to allocate memory resources with NUMA-aware sub-initialization functions for each worker thread. In the second scenario, we purposely misaligned the thread to the remote NUMA-node with the result that the necessary data were accessed via the Intel® QuickPath Interconnect (Intel® QPI) bus.

R&S®PACE 2 NUMA support

R&S®PACE 2 supports integration using NUMA-aware sub-initialization functions for each worker thread. That is considered best practice for multi-socket systems in order to allocate requested memory with the requesting NUMA node. Otherwise, all per thread processing data, such as tracking tables for subscriber and flows, can be misaligned. In that suboptimal case, the affected processing threads have to access the remote memory via QPI. This results in a higher workload on the bus and additional latency overhead compared to direct local memory access.

Test results

More specifically, the tests showed that misaligned NUMA worker threads can result in up to a 25.4% decrease in throughput on a server powered by an Intel® Xeon® Gold 6230N CPU. The impact of the misalignment is more visible across application-centric traffic flows compared to default profiles delivered with Open source TRex traffic generator, like rtsp.yaml or sfr3.yaml[2]. These profiles require significantly less memory access to the flow and subscriber hash tables compared to a mixed-application DPI (mixed_dpi.yaml) profile.

Throughput in mpps of the DPI engine RS PACE 2
Test results measured in Gbps and Mpps. Measured on 1 logical core

The results of both tests, while expected, make an exciting find. Existing and future users of R&S®PACE 2 can benefit from its NUMA-aware multithreading APIs and hence avoid performance declines that are common with misalignments. The integration of R&S®PACE 2 with packet processing frameworks like DPDK, XDP or VPP will have a far-reaching impact on the deployment of DPI into 5G UPFs, specifically where ultra-low latencies are expected.

Get the full test results: https://www.ipoque.com/news-media/resources/whitepapers/ipoque-tests-deep-packet-inspection-for-5g-networks

We did a live webinar co-hosted with Intel on the topic “DPI performance measurements for 5G UPF setups”. You can register via this link to watch it on demand if you wish to gain more information on this topic.


1 Ericsson Mobility Report, June 2020, Mobile data traffic

2 https://github.com/cisco-system-traffic-generator/trex-core/tree/master/scripts/cap2

Tobias Roeder portrait

Tobias Roeder

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Tobias holds a degree in electrical engineering and has more than eight years of experience in product development. For a number of years, Tobias has been working as an application engineer for the deep packet inspection (DPI) software R&S®PACE 2 at ipoque, a subsidiary of the Rohde & Schwarz company. Tobias provides engineering services from the packet processing level up to the application level. In customer consulting, he identifies the optimal implementation to fulfill customer requirements and assists with the architectural decisions that go along with embedding DPI into network solutions. When he’s not at work, Tobias plays disc golf and enjoys doing CrossFit.

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