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Nvidia amd smartnics receive official vmware vsphere support the register


Explore VMware SmartNICs have long been the domain of hyperscale and cloud data centers, but they are relatively uncommon in enterprise environments, in large part due to lack of software compatibility. But with official support for AMD and Nvidia’s data processing units (DPUs) now built into VMware’s popular hypervisor, that may not be the case for much longer.

At the VMware Explore conference this week, Nvidia and AMD announced support to run the vSphere 8 virtualization stack on their respective BlueField and Pensando DPUs. The announcement represents the culmination of more than two years of work at VMware Project Montereywhich prompted Nvidia, AMD-Pensando, Intel and others to offload vSphere’s virtualization capabilities to dedicated accelerators.

Often referred to as SmartNICs, DPUs, or Infrastructure Processing Units (IPUs), these accelerators typically combine high-speed networks and a combination of fixed-function ASICs or configurable FPGAs with general-purpose compute processors. In this regard, the DPU essentially acts as a coprocessor for I/O-intensive workloads. The ultimate goal for these accelerators is too pick up work from a host server, performs these tasks—such as network packet filtering—at high speed, leaving the host’s processor cores to run applications.

These devices were deployed in public cloud and hyperscale data centers for years. They isolate tenant workloads from network, security, storage and other infrastructure operations associated with data center operations while freeing up host CPU cycles. VMware’s Project Monterey attempted to take these capabilities to a higher level mainstream company Audience.

While VMware worked to bring its software stack to SmartNICs, Nvidia and AMD went on a shopping spree, snapping up network vendors that they believe could give them an edge in what they think is an emerging market.

In 2019 Nvidia announced the acquisition from Mellanox, which was in the process of launching its 200 Gbps BlueField-2 SmartNIC. Similarly, AMD has paid well over $50 billion over the past two years to expand its computing capabilities by acquiring the FPGA vendor Xilinx and later SmartNIC start Pensando. The chip house detailed its plans to fuse FPGAs, ASICs and ARM cores for its first internal SmartNIC system-on-chip at last week’s Hot Chips event.

However, the software required to take advantage of these accelerators is still a bit elusive for many leaving on highly proprietary and manufacturer-specific software stacks.

By extending support for vSphere to these devices, VMware aims to change that by enabling its customer base to achieve cloud-like efficiencies in its data centers using its preferred virtualization stack. Meanwhile, it’s an opportunity for Nvidia and AMD to capitalize on years of research and development.

“We’ve seen an evolution where enterprises have moved from truly bespoke devices with networking, security, storage and management to a software-defined data center,” said Kevin Deierling, Nvidia SVP of Networking, during a press briefing last week. “With VMware, now with vSphere 8.0, we’ve actually shifted that process – infrastructure management, storage and software-defined networking – all of that now runs on BlueField.”

Similarly, Pensando’s Distributed Services Card, which AMD claims can improve efficiency by freeing up host CPU cycles and increase security by isolating infrastructure services from tenant workloads.

“VMware vSphere Distributed Services Engine, enabled by AMD’s Pensando DPUs, is an important step in bringing the industry closer to composable hardware systems,” boasted Forrest Norrod, SVP of AMD’s Datacenter Solutions Group expression.

Both vendors tout lower running costs as one of the most significant benefits of using DPU-equipped systems. Nvidia’s Deierling claims a total cost of ownership savings of $8,200 per server over its lifetime. “For a company with 1,000 node servers, this improvement translates into savings of $1.8 million over three years,” he claimed.

This week’s announcement of vSphere support also addresses one of the top challenges for customers looking to deploy SmartNICs in their data centers: enterprise support. Although SmartNICs have been available in the open market, they have not necessarily been validated for use in OEM systems.

At this week’s VMWare Explore, AMD announced it will begin offering its 400Gbps capable Pensando DPUs through leading server OEMs including Dell, HPE and Lenovo in the next few weeks. Likewise, Nvidia will start shipping its 200 Gbps BlueField 2 DPUs in Dell PowerEdge systems starting in November. Users can also try the BlueField-2 as part of Nvidia’s Cloud LaunchPad service.

While Nvidia and AMD are among the first to support VMware’s vSphere software stack, they won’t be the last if current trends continue.

Intel has occurred a series of FPGA and ASIC-based SmartNICs – or IPUs as they prefer to call them – and has been heavily involved with Project Monterey from the start. The chip giant’s forthcoming Mount Evans and Oak Springs Canyon accelerators are slated to begin shipping “later this year,” they say.

Marvell also has the goal of conquering part of the DPU market with its products Octeon 10 DPUs, announced last year. The cards have an integrated terabit switch for high-speed network offload.

As these accelerators become more accessible, the software becomes better. Palo Alto Networks for example demonstrated its virtualized firewall capabilities, including intrusion detection and protection, running on a BlueField 2 DPU last summer.

And in June, the Linux Foundation, supported by a range of DPU, OEM and software vendors including Nvidia, Intel, Marvell, F5, Keysight, Dell Tech and Red Hat, started the Open Programmable Infrastructure project to accelerate the development of smartNIC-enabled applications.

The question that the OPI project The problem to solve is “how do we generalize this technology and release it for everyone to use,” said Yan Fisher, Red Hat Global Evangelist for Emerging Technologies The registry back then. There are certainly enough players now to find out. ®

Your guide to clipping and storing our 2022 VMware Explore cover Nvidia, AMD SmartNICs receive official VMware vSphere support • The Register

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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.