Cisco today unveiled a single-chip, reprogrammable network processor it believes will be especially useful in network equipment that handles M2M traffic that is expected to grow exponentially in coming years.

The company is being aggravatingly coy about even the type of network systems the nPower X1 chip is going to go into (core routers? edge routers?), preferring to save that information for an event scheduled for September 24.

What the company would reveal suggests that the nPower X1, and perhaps scaled down future versions, might end up proliferating throughout much of the company’s network portfolio. The company has been promoting software-defined networks, and doing so because SDNs should be able to react to network conditions, a capability that should help enable machine to machine (M2M) networking, or what Cisco prefers to call “the Internet of Everything.”

Cisco believes the nPower X1 is the first single-die chip to handle traffic at 400 gigabits-per-second (Gbps).

The Internet of everything requires a qualitative difference in how you handle traffic, however, said Sanjeev Mervana, Cisco’s director of service provider marketing, so simply providing greater bandwidth is not enough.

So the company built the chip from the ground up to integrate functions that are typically spread across several subsystems on a board, including packet processing, I/O, and traffic management, according to the chip’s designer, Nikhil Jayaram. The chip sports 336 multi-threaded processing cores and associated memory.

It enables eight times the throughput and one quarter the power per bit compared with Cisco's previous network processor, the company said.

The company expects the product line to eventually scale up to terabits per second.

This architecture will enable network systems to actually react to network traffic, and scale up and down accordingly, Cisco explained. An example: imagine a situation in the not too distant future where there’s a traffic accident that causes a traffic jam. Video cams and GPS systems could combine to signal the alarm clocks of commuters who use that route to go off earlier, and then co-ordinate with each commuters’ Outlook program to reschedule meetings, cognizant that the traffic jam is going to make everyone late for work.  

With trillions of advanced networked events predicted to come online over the next decade, the Cisco nPower integrated network processor delivers new levels of performance and bandwidth, as well as programmable control using open APIs and advanced compute capabilities, the company said.