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Internet map Photo courtesy of Matt Britt (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Matt_Britt) and is under CC license.

A team from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology created a router, built from parts found in most high-end desktop computers, that transmits data at nearly 40 GBps.

The technique used by the scientists could lead to the development of cheap commodity chips, replacing the custom made hardware in high performance routers. The software could lead to the development of new techniques and protocols to replace the decades old infrastructure, on which the Internet currently runs.

Routers use custom hardware to route traffic between networks. Software routers use software to perform the same function. Most commercial software products can only achieve speeds of 3GB, far below the 10Gbps of common hardware. The Korean researchers developed a program called Packetshader which uses GPUs to process data packets at nearly 40GBps.

Routers manipulate data packets in myriad ways and this “parallel” processing is where the GPU really shines. Able to handle multiple data packets at once, such as encryption and authentication, it allows the CPU to perform serial operations on the data, such as packet processing to detect network breach attempts.

Gianluca Iannaccone, an engineer at Intel Labs Berkeley familiar with the software, says it could reduce the number of physical machines needed to comprise a Terabit-per-second software router, to one-third of what his research has previously indicated would be required.

“One Terabit is the entry point for enterprise-grade routers–the routers in the core of the Internet,” says Iannaccone. If enough 40Gb software routers are connected, you create a 1TB router. These clusters could one day form routers made up entirely of software.

“We can expect killer apps out of this,” added KyoungSoo Park, who was also involved. “You can build an interesting packet- or network-management system on top of a PC-based software router that can’t be implemented with a hardware router. Ultimately, you can experiment with new protocols that are not used in today’s Internet.”

Used in combination with technology like Openflow, we could develop scalable, energy-efficient data networks to replace  our current infrastructure.