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Mellanox introduces SmartNICs to eliminate network load on CPUs

by ethhack

If you were wondering what prompted Nvidia to shell out nearly $7 billion for Mellanox Technologies, here’s your answer: The networking hardware provider has introduced a pair of processors for offloading network workloads from the CPU.

ConnectX-6 Dx and BlueField-2 are cloud SmartNICs and I/O Processing Unit (IPU) solutions, respectively, designed to take the work of network processing off the CPU, freeing it to do its processing job.

The company promises up to 200Gbit/sec throughput with ConnectX and BlueField. It said the market for 25Gbit and faster Ethernet was 31% of the total market last year and will grow to 61% next year. With the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), a lot of data needs to be moved around and Ethernet needs to get a lot faster.

“The whole vision of [software-defined networking] and NVMe-over-Fabric was a nice vision, but as soon as people tried it in the data center, performance ground to a halt because CPUs couldn’t handle all that data,” said Kevin Deierling, vice president of marketing for Mellanox. “As you do more complex networking, the CPUs are being asked to do all that work on top of running the apps and the hypervisor. It puts a big burden on CPUs if you don’t unload that workload.”

CPUs are getting larger, with AMD introducing a 64-core Epyc processor and Intel introducing a 56-core Xeon. But keeping those giant CPUs fed is a real challenge. You can’t use a 100Gbit link because the CPU has to look at all that traffic and it gets overwhelmed, argues Deierling.

“Suddenly 100-200Gbits becomes possible because a CPU doesn’t have to look at every packet and decide which core needs it,” he said.

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