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ARMv8 Project Thunder SoC gains Linux support

Oct 30, 2013 — by Eric Brown 2,276 views

At ARM TechCon, Cavium demonstrated an SDK for its upcoming ARMv8-based Project Thunder SoC family, and announced Ubuntu support for Project Thunder, while Cavium subsidiary MontaVista announced Carrier Grade Linux support for ARMv8. Meanwhile, Cavium and MontaVista joined Linaro and other companies in launching OpenDataPlane, an open source networking SoC interoperability standards organization for Linux.

Now that the ARMv8 cat is out of the bag with the Apple’s zippy new A7 system-on-chip (SoC) inside its iPad Air and iPhone 5s, the rest of the mobile world is struggling to catch up. Networking and server SoC vendors are also keenly interested in ARM’s 64-bit designs, which are not only faster but support a much larger memory space for improved virtualization, among other enhancements. Some chipmakers are licensing specific ARM designs, such as the four Cortex-A53 cores in Altera’s ARM/FPGA Stratix 10 SX SoC. Others are customizing their own designs, including Broadcom with its still unnamed quad-issue, quad-threaded ARMv8 SoC.

ARM’s evolution from v5 to v8
(click image to enlarge)


Cavium’s upcoming “Project Thunder” ARMv8 SoC appears to fall into the latter category. This week, Cavium held a private demonstration of the SoC’s software development kit (SDK) at ARM TechCon. The company also demonstrated combined Software Defined Networking and Network Function Virtualization (SDN/NFV) solutions based on Project Thunder.


There’s still not much public information on Project Thunder, but Cavium said the SoCs will support computing, networking, security, and storage applications and provide “targeted workload application acceleration and high-speed industry standard IOs.” The chipmaker provides a line of lower-end 32-bit ARM-based SoCs called Econa, but its main focus has been its 64-bit MIPS Octeon III networking SoCs.

Ubuntu supports Project Thunder

Cavium and Canonical also announced that Project Thunder will be fully supported by Ubuntu Server 13.10. The combination of the Linux distribution and Project Thunder will be available in HP’s Moonshot Discovery Lab, letting developers start porting, developing, and testing on cloud-centric server projects using Project Thunder, according to the chipmaker. A preview version for Ubuntu Server on Project Thunder is available for developers who register here.

MontaVista reveals ARMv8 support

While Ubuntu appears to be the distro of choice for Project Thunder on the datacenter side, embedded networking equipment providers (NEPS) will likely instead turn to MontaVista Linux Carrier Grade Edition (CGE). This week, pioneering embedded Linux development firm and Cavium subsidiary MontaVista announced that MontaVista CGE 7.0 now supports ARMv8.

In July, MontaVista announced that its slightly older CGE 6.0 distribution had been registered for the Linux Foundation’s Carrier Grade Linux (CGL) 5.0 spec under ARM as well as other chip architectures. Last week, rival Wind River proclaimed support for ARMv8 in Wind River Linux 6.

According to MontaVista, CGE 7.0 makes full use of the virtualization features within ARMv8-A. (Much of this capability is also migrating to an embedded-focused ARMv8-R platform for a future generation of Linux- and Android ready Cortex-R processors.) Like Cavium, MontaVista promotes its product as being ideal for SDN and NFV applications. SoC virtualization “with seamless application layer support of network acceleration hardware is key for the performance based SDN architecture and NFV enabled systems of tomorrow,” says the company.

MontaVista also touts its preexisting support for Big Endian, a legacy memory access scheme still used in the networking and telecom world. As a major contributor to the ARM-focused Linaro Networking Group (LNG) MontaVista has been working with Linaro to enable ARMv8 with Big Endian support According to MontaVista, “OEMs migrating their applications from legacy network architectures now can utilize ARMv8-based SOCs for their big endian based applications without having to rewrite their massive applications.”

Linaro launches OpenDataPlane

Also at ARM TechCon, ARM-backed Linux tools vendor Linaro announced the launch of a standards organization under the aegis of the Linaro Working Group (LNG) called OpenDataPlane (ODP). The ODP will develop a standardized data plane application programming interface (API) to enable Linux software portability between networking SoCs, regardless of the underlying chip architecture.

Linaro’s OpenDataPlane support architecture
(click image to enlarge)


The ODP deliverable will include an API software layer, configuration files, services, and utilities. It will support implementations ranging from pure software to extensions of existing vendor-specific SDKs. ODP will align with standards such as OpenCL and OpenGL, and networking applications will be written directly on top of the ODP environment to provide platform interoperability.

Cavium and MontaVista are both members of the 12-member ODP organization, along with companies including ARM, Nokia, Texas Instruments, LSI, and Enea. Apparently, the remaining members want to fly under the radar for now.

More information on ODP may be found at the OpenDataPlane website, as well as this ODP page at the LNG site.

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