New protocols for the data link and network layer are being proposed to address limitations of current protocols in terms of scalability, security, and manageability. High-speed routers and switches that implement these protocols traditionally perform packet processing using ASICs which offer high speed, low chip area, and low power. But with inflexible custom hardware, the deployment of new protocols could happen only through equipment upgrades. While newer routers use more flexible network processors for data plane processing, due to power and area constraints lookups in forwarding tables are done with custom lookup modules. Thus most of the proposed protocols can only be deployed with equipment upgrades.
To speed up the deployment of new protocols, we propose a flexible lookup module, PLUG (Pipelined Lookup Grid). We can achieve generality without loosing efficiency because various custom lookup modules have the same fundamental features we retain: area dominated by memories, simple processing, and strict access patterns defined by the data structure. We implemented IPv4, Ethernet, Ethane, and SEATTLE in our dataflow-based programming model for the PLUG and mapped them to the PLUG hardware which consists of a grid of tiles. Throughput, area, power, and latency of PLUGs are close to those of specialized lookup modules.