Best SmartNIC for Building the Smart Cloud: PART II

The Best Smart NIC for the Cloud Enables software-defined, hardware-accelerated networking for high performance with programmable flexibility  
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The Best Smart Cloud Infrastructure is Hardware-Accelerated and Software-Defined

As the pendulum swings away from hardware-defined infrastructure, the best smart clouds will be software-defined and hardware-accelerated.

Figure 1: Hardware Accelerated, Software Defined World Achieves Total Infrastructure Efficiency


In part one of my blog, I drew a conclusion that smart devices around us are changing our lives in remarkable ways. Yet, the infrastructure to support these smart innovations hasn’t fully evolved in terms of flexibility, performance and efficiency. A software defined world offers flexibility but at the cost of performance and efficiency. A hardware defined world holds some distinct advantages in terms of performance but lacks flexibility. To bridge the agility, performance and efficiency gaps between hardware defined and software defined worlds, we need to strike a balance between flexibility, performance and efficiency. A hardware accelerated, software defined world is the ultimate nirvana for solving the total infrastructure efficiency challenges when building cloud scale and cloud native architectures.  Mellanox SmartNICs are at the forefront of the next infrastructure transformation. We are leading the market with purpose-built hardware that complements and turbocharges software defined infrastructure for cloud and communication service providers.

Networking Adapters for the Smart Cloud have evolved from basic/foundational NICs to Intelligent NICs and now to high-performance SmartNICs.

Figure 2: Evolution of the Network Adapters


Mellanox Smart Network Adapters Offload Common Tasks from the CPU

Unlike Basic/Foundational or regular NICs, SmartNICs including Mellanox ConnectX-5 and BlueField are built on the key tenets of maximizing performance and agility without sacrificing efficiency. Mellanox Smart Network Adapters or SmartNICs offer many smart networking offloads including network overlay offloads for multi-tenant cloud data centers, virtual switch or virtual router offloads, flow classification, traffic steering; routing, switching, network address translation (NAT), port address translation (PAT), quality of service and many other features that are handled inefficiently using general purpose CPUs.  Storage offloads include RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE), NVMe over Fabrics (NVMe-oF), Erasure Coding, iSER over RDMA, etc. In addition, Mellanox Smart Network Adapters provide offloads to boost the performance of a variety of cloud native workloads including Artificial Intelligence using Tensorflow and Big Data using Spark and Hadoop frameworks.

Optimized networking ASICs are the most efficient silicon choice for building efficient SmartNICs for the cloud.

Figure 3: Choosing the Right Hardware Acceleration Option


Mellanox BlueField High Performance SmartNIC delivers Speed, Efficiency, and Flexibility

But when it comes to selecting the right high-performance SmartNIC for a network design task at hand, it is important to evaluate flexibility vs. efficiency. Achieving one at the expense of the other is like going back to the initial problem of hardware defined vs. software defined networks. ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) based Intelligent Network Adapters such as Mellanox ConnectX family are ideal for well-defined, price-power-performance efficient networking offloads. Given that ASICs are pre-programmed for the highest efficiency in the silicon, flexibility isn’t the highest with such network adapters. Mellanox BlueField System on Chip (SoC) SmartNICs offer a combination of highly efficient and flexible networking for the SDX world. The BlueField SmartNIC SOC combines an embedded ARM processor’s flexibility with ConnectX-5 ASIC’s native offload capabilities, and thus takes the smart networking to a whole new level. Due to the BlueField SmartNIC’s bump-in-the-wire architecture, it is a perfect SmartNIC for running network services such as virtual switch (vSwitch) or virtual router (vRouter) control and data planes, host isolation, traffic engineering, real time threat detection and mitigation, advanced storage offloads such as NVMe-oF, etc. right on the wire. A quick comparison of SmartNICs based on price-performance, ease of programming and flexibility is important when choosing the right tool for the network design job at hand.

Mellanox works with a large ecosystem of server, cloud, storage and software partners to deliver efficient cloud infrastructure with programmable hardware acceleration

Figure 4: Broad Ecosystem Support for Deploying Efficient Cloud Infrastructure

Mellanox is the inventor and pioneer of the Smart Adapter technology. For a decade, Mellanox smart network adapters such as ConnectX have been certified by all leading computer and storage server vendors including HPE, Dell, IBM, Cisco, Lenovo, Supermicro, Oracle and Nokia. The world’s top Cloud Service Providers, Web 2.0 and Hyperscale customers including Microsoft Azure, Alibaba and Tencent are trusting Mellanox to build their Cloud Scale, Virtualized Data Centers using Mellanox Smart Adapters. As Albert Greenberg of Microsoft Azure mentioned in his ONS 2014 Keynote, Microsoft Azure networking achieves a fantastic storage scale and efficiency using the performance and efficiency advantages of RoCE networking to make the storage cheaper. Also, several cloud providers have been using Mellanox smart adapters to accelerate OpenStack Networking.

Alibaba, the China e-commerce giant has been using Mellanox smart adapter technologies such as RoCE and DPDK to optimize online transaction processing times and boost topline revenues.  Tencent built a high performance and low latency artificial intelligence cloud service using Mellanox Ethernet and InfiniBand smart network adapters. But note that SmartNICs aren’t limited to only cloud scale customers. Any business, be it a service provider or a large enterprise, that needs to achieve a competitive edge must think of building a smart cloud scale infrastructure driven by total infrastructure efficiency.

As the world around us is becoming smarter, it is imperative that the next generation cloud scale infrastructure that is helping to connect billions of these smart things to consumers and business also becomes smarter. Mellanox is leading the transformation of SmartNIC driven Cloud Infrastructure. With end to end smart technologies surrounding us, the Smart Era has finally arrived!

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About Ash Bhalgat

Ash is Senior Director of Cloud Marketing at Mellanox. He leads market strategy, product/solutions marketing and ecosystem engagements for cloud service provider and telco cloud markets. Ash is an accomplished hi-tech industry leader focused on the intersection of technology, products/solutions and markets. He has deep experience in building and marketing high impact, fast revenue growth products/solutions at large, mid-size and startups including companies such as Cisco, Mellanox, Polycom, Luxoft and Hapoose. His professional experience spans across diverse technology domains including Cloud Services, Software Defined Networking, Server and Network Virtualization, Routing, Switching, Wi-Fi, Unified Communication and Collaboration, Network Management, Mobile Apps and End User Devices. Ash graduated summa cum laude with a B.E. is Electrical Engineering from University of Pune (India), M.S. in Computer Engineering from University of Cincinnati and M.B.A. from Santa Clara University. Connect with Ash on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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