US 6697868 Protocol processing stack for use with intelligent network interface device

ABSTRACT – A host CPU runs a network protocol processing stack that provides instructions not only to process network messages but also to allocate processing of certain network messages to a specialized network communication device, offloading some of the most time consuming protocol processing from the host CPU to the network communication device. By allocating common and time consuming network processes to the device, while retaining the ability to handle less time intensive and more varied processing on the host stack, the network communication device can be relatively simple and cost effective. The host CPU, operating according to instructions from the stack, and the network communication device together determine whether and to what extent a given message is processed by the host CPU or by the network communication device.

TECHNICAL FIELD

The present invention relates to the management of information communicated via a network, including protocol processing.

BACKGROUND

Various individuals, companies and governments have worked for many years to provide communication over computer networks. As different computer and network architectures have been created, many types of protocols have evolved to facilitate that communication. Conventionally, network messages contain information regarding a number of protocol layers that allow information within the messages to be directed to the correct destination and decoded according to appropriate instructions, despite substantial differences that may exist between the computers or other devices transmitting and receiving the messages. Processing of these messages is usually performed by a central processing unit (CPU) running software instructions designed to recognize and manipulate protocol information contained in the messages.

With the increasing prevalence of network communication, a large portion of the CPU’s time may be devoted to such protocol processing, interfering with other tasks the CPU may need to perform. Multiple interrupts to the CPU can also be problematic when transferring many small messages or for large data transfers, which are conventionally divided into a number of packets for transmission over a network.

SUMMARY

In accordance with the present invention, means for offloading some of the most time consuming protocol processing from a host CPU to a specialized device designed for network communication processing are provided. The host has a protocol processing stack that provides instructions not only to process network messages but also to allocate processing of certain network messages to the specialized network communication device. By allocating some of the most common and time consuming network processes to the network communication device, while retaining the ability to handle less time intensive and more varied processing on the host stack, the network communication device can be relatively simple and cost effective. The host CPU, operating according to the instructions from the stack, and the specialized network communication device together determine whether and to what extent a given message is processed by the host CPU or by the network communication device.

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