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Earlier this year, Red Hat engineering took a close look at how to accelerate compression within applications by using 4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable Processors that include Intel® QuickAssist Technology (Intel® QAT), which can accelerate both compression and encryption. Today we will examine the encryption capabilities and show how to achieve major performance improvements with leading load balancing applications. HAProxy and F5’s NGINX were tested running on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 9.2.

Setting up

We started with a RHEL 9.2 installation on a system with an Intel Xeon Platinum 8480+ processor. It’s important to ensure that intel_iommu=on is set on the kernel command line, so that a physical QAT device can be exposed as Virtual Functions.

Test System for both applications 

  • Intel Xeon Platinum 8480+ processor
  • 512 GB DDR4 Memory
  • RHEL 9.2

Intel® QAT Engine for OpenSSL*

QAT_Engine is open source software that enables any application that uses OpenSSL to take advantage of cryptography acceleration technologies available on Intel processors, including Intel QAT, a hardware accelerator integrated in 4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors. The only requirements for using hardware acceleration are:


HAProxy is a popular reverse proxy application for TCP and HTTP traffic. One benefit of Intel QAT is that we can substantially improve HAProxy’s performance with TLS handshakes, which benefits systems that handle a large volume of new TLS connections. Example use cases where TLS handshake performance could make a difference include high-volume services on the public Internet, and services that handle requests from many edge and/or IoT devices that do not maintain persistent TCP connections.

To run the test, we started by installing a number of packages that come with RHEL:

dnf -y install haproxy qatengine httpd httpd-tools

Httpd, commonly known as the Apache web server, was used for the test as the HTTP service being proxied. It was configured to return a basic HTTP 200 response.

Turning on the use of Intel QAT only requires adding the following two lines to HAProxy’s configuration file, which makes this feature especially easy to use or experiment with on your own:

ssl-engine qatengine algo ALL

For some tests we introduced simulated network latency using Linux Traffic Control’s netem qdisc, which requires the kernel-modules-extra package.

Illustration of TLS Clients > HAProxy > httpd

Complete details of how the software was installed, configured and run can be viewed in the benchmark script found on GitHub:


HAProxy: openssl vs qatengine graph

As you can see in the bar graph, introducing Intel QAT provides a major boost in performance when handling new TLS connections. TLS 1.2 showed a 69% improvement, while the newer TLS 1.3 showed a 51% improvement.

These tests were performed with HAProxy 2.4 pinned to 4 CPUs, simulated network latency of 50ms, jitter of 4ms, and packet loss of 0.1%. All tests used the TLS cipher ECDHE-RSA-AES256-GCM-SHA384.


NGINX is F5’s very popular open source web server that is used to deploy and run a wide variety of web services and sites. Today’s upstream NGINX project is not able to use Intel QAT, so engineers from Intel created a set of patches that enable NGINX to incorporate asynchronous elements into the request processing workflow. As a result, a number of optimizations including Intel QAT can now be introduced as part of handling each http request.  

Cyrus Rafii Sr. Business Development Manager at F5 stated “Combining F5 NGINX using  Intel’s QuickAssist Technology on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, gives you the accelerated security of your data regardless of where the data resides. This is the optimum solution to enhance the security of not only data in flight, but also deliver scalability and portability between hybrid cloud workloads.”

The patch authors are working upstream with the NGINX project. F5 has expressed the intent to incorporate the design changes into a future NGINX release. Until then, Intel’s changes can be viewed and utilized from a dedicated repository on GitHub:

asynch_mode_nginx: openssl vs qatengine graph

Introducing Intel QAT provides a major boost in performance when handling new TLS connections. TLS 1.2 showed a 78% improvement, while the newer TLS 1.3 showed a 67% improvement.

Compression can also be offloaded using Intel QAT with NGINX, which can further increase throughput or reduce the load on processor cores. HTTP traffic is commonly compressed using gzip in order to substantially reduce the amount of data being transmitted. NGINX compresses responses with MIME type “text/html” by default, but it can also be configured to compress other response types.

F5 will be showcasing NGINX using Intel QAT on RHEL in their demo booth # 327 at Intel Innovation this week in San Jose, CA on September 19th and 20th.  Stop by and check out this leap forward in performance if you happen to be at the event.


These results demonstrate Red Hat’s commitment in collaboration with Intel to helping our OEMs and ISVs deliver high-performing solutions to our mutual customers and showcase customer value we jointly deliver into the market.

Intel QuickAssist Technology delivers a significant step forward in performance for OpenSSL use cases. Any application that uses OpenSSL on Red Hat Enterprise Linux could potentially benefit from hardware acceleration of cryptography using Intel QAT and achieve similarly impressive performance gains as we saw with HAProxy and NGINX.

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About the authors

Eric has been at Red Hat since 2016. In his tenure he has contributed to many open source projects: Linux, Open vSwitch, nftables and firewalld. He has been the upstream maintainer of firewalld since 2017.

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