Running a service provider business is much about leveraging the economics of scale with streamlined operations. Network maintenance, service and subscriber provisioning needs to run as oiled machinery. Nothing disturbs this operation more than forklift platform upgrades.
As technology ages, it eventually needs to be upgraded or replaced. Management and control plane software can often be upgraded without any hardware impact. But for the network processing line cards, the operator is required to send someone out to the site and swap the card, or in some cases, the complete box.
Forklift upgrades are painful. To send someone out to the field and replace hardware is not only costly, but it also negatively impacts the focus on growth and customer retention.
This is why programmability of the data plane is important. Features and standards evolve, and service providers should not accept being limited by fixed-function ASICs that are several years old and obsolete. Upgrading switches and routers due to the lack of port densities or capacity is one thing. But the lack of the data plane’s ability to support evolving standards or useful vendor specific features is another.
The inherent capability of network processors to be programmed not only enables system vendors to customize the feature set. Its ability to extend the lifetime of the products has a significant impact on service provider business economics. So let’s put the data plane technology designs which cause unnecessary and painful forklift upgrades to the waste bin for obsolete technology.