Network processor technology represents a fundamental paradigm shift in the “convergence” communications industry. This has caused a parallel paradigm shift in the way that operating systems are constructed for network processor-based devices. This paper looks at communication industry challenges and provides an overview of network processors, presenting the Intel IXP1200 as an example.

Inherent properties of a real-time operating system (RTOS) that address network processor technology are detailed, and development tool integration for effective software development is described. The paper also examines microcode, explaining what it is and discussing software packet processing between a microcode engine and a core processor, as well as debugging.