We decided to take a short break (of sorts) from storage to talk about something equally important to the enterprise, networking. At (virtual) VMworld a month or so ago, Pat made mention of developing support for SmartNIC-DPUs and even porting vSphere to run on top of a DPU. So we thought it best to go to the source of this technology and talk with Kevin Deierling (TechSeerKD), Head of Marketing at NVIDIA Networking who are the ones supplying these SmartNICs to VMware and others in the industry.
Kevin is always a pleasure to talk with and comes with a wealth of expertise and understanding of the technology underlying data centers today. The GreyBeards found our discussion to be very educational on what a SmartNIC or DPU can do and why VMware and others would be driving to rapidly adopt the technology. Listen to the podcast to learn more.
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NVIDIA’s recent acquisition of Mellanox brought them Mellanox’s NIC, switch and router technology. And while Mellanox, and now NVIDIA have some pretty impressive switches and routers, what interested the GreyBeards was their SmartNIC technology.
Essentially, SmartNICS provide acceleration and offload of data handling needs required to move data around an enterprise network. These offload services include at a minimum, encryption/decryption, packet pacing (delivering gadzillion video streams at the right speed to insure proper playback by all), compression, firewalls, NVMeoF/RoCE, TCP/IP, GPU direct storage (GDS) transfers, VLAN micro-segmentation, scaling, and anything else that requires real time processing to perform at line speeds.
For those who haven’t heard of it, GDS transfers data from storage directly into GPU memory and from GPU memory directly to storage without any CPU cycles or server memory involvement, other than to set up the transfer. This extends NVMeoF RDMA tech to/from storage and server memory, to GPUs. That is, GDS offers a RDMA like path between storage and GPU memory. GPU to/from server memory direct interface already exists over the PCIe bus.
But even with all the offloads and accelerators above, they can also offer an additional a secure enclave outside the TPM in the CPU, to better isolate security sensitive functionality for a data center. (See DPU below).
Kevin mentioned multiple times that the new unit of computation is no longer a server but rather is now a data center. When you have public cloud, private cloud and other systems that all serve up virtual CPUs, NICs, GPUs and storage, what’s really being supplied to a user is a virtual data center. Cloud providers can carve up their hardware and serve it to you any way you want or need it. Virtual data centers can provide a multitude of VMs and any infrastructure that customers need to use to run their workloads.
Kevin mentioned by using SmartNics, IT or cloud providers can return 30% of the processor cycles (that were being spent doing networking work on CPUs) back to workloads that run on CPUs. Any data center can effectively obtain 30% more CPU cycles and increased networking speed and performance just by deploying SmartNICs throughout all the servers in their environment.
SmartNICs are an outgrowth of Mellanox technology embedded in their HPC InfiniBAND and high end Ethernet switches/routers. Mellanox had been well known for their support of NVMeoF/RoCE to supply high IOPs/low-latency IO activity for NVMe storage over Ethernet and before that their InfiniBAND RDMA technologies.
As Mellanox came out with their 2nd Gen SmartNIC they began to call their solution a “DPU” (data processing unit), which they see forming part of a “holy trinity” underpinning the new data center which has CPUs, GPUs and now DPUs. But a DPU is more than just a SmartNIC.
All NVIDIA SmartNICs and DPUs are based on Mellanox’s BlueField cards and chip technology. Their DPU uses BlueField2 (gen 2 technology) chips, which has a multi-core ARM engine inside of it and memory which can be used to perform computational processing in addition to the onboard offload/acceleration capabilities.
Besides adding VMware support for SmartNICs, PatG also mentioned that they were porting vSphere (ESX) to run on top of NVIDIA Networking DPUs. This would move the core VMware’s hypervisor functionality from running on CPUs, to running on DPUs. This of course would free up most if not all VMware Hypervisor CPU cycles for use by customer workloads.
During our discussion with Kevin, we talked a lot about the coming of AI-ML-DL workloads, which will require ever more bandwidth, ever lower latencies and ever more compute power. NVIDIA was a significant early enabler of the AI-ML-DL with their CUDA API that allowed a GPU to be used to perform DL network training and inferencing. As such, CUDA became an industry wide phenomenon allowing industry wide GPUs to be used as DL compute engines.
NVIDIA plans to do the same with their SmartNICs and DPUs. NVIDIA Networking is releasing the DOCA (Data center On a Chip Architecture) SDK and API. DOCA provides the API to use the BlueField2 chips and cards which are the central techonology behind their DPU. They have also announced a roadmap to continue enhancing DOCA, as they have done with CUDA, over the foreseeable future, to add more bandwidth, speed and functionality to DPUs.
It turns out the real problem which forced Mellanox and now NVIDIA to create SmartNics was the need to support the extremely low latencies required for NVMeoF and GDS IO.
It wasn’t clear that the public cloud providers were using SmartNICS but Kevin said it’s been sort of a widely known secret that they have been using the tech. The public clouds (AWS, Azure, Alibaba) have been deploying SmartNICS in their environments for some time now. Always on the lookout for any technology that frees up compute resources to be deployed for cloud users, it appears that public cloud providers were early adopters of SmartNICS.
Kevin Deierling, Head of Marketing NVIDIA Networking
Kevin is an entrepreneur, innovator, and technology executive with a proven track record of creating profitable businesses in highly competitive markets.
Kevin has been a founder or senior executive at five startups that have achieved positive outcomes (3 IPOs, 2 acquisitions). Combining both technical and business expertise, he has variously served as the chief officer of technology, architecture, and marketing of these companies where he led the development of strategy and products across a broad range of disciplines including: networking, security, cloud, Big Data, machine learning, virtualization, storage, smart energy, bio-sensors, and DNA sequencing.
Kevin has over 25 patents in the fields of networking, wireless, security, error correction, video compression, smart energy, bio-electronics, and DNA sequencing technologies.
When not driving new technology, he finds time for fly-fishing, cycling, bee keeping, & organic farming.