New Mellanox BlueField SmartNIC network adapters boosts software defined data center networks


Mellanox Technologies announced on Wednesday its BlueField line of software-defined SmartNIC adapters, designed for scale-out server and storage applications. The BlueField intelligent adapters bring new capabilities to Mellanox’s portfolio by embedding ARM processor cores and accelerators in the network interface card (NIC). Based on the BlueField system-on-chip processors, with up to 200Gb/s of low-latency throughput, these adapters enable a truly software-defined data center network.

The BlueField intelligent adapters delivers two network ports of Ethernet or InfiniBand: 10G/25G, 40G, 50G or 100Gb/s options; RDMA support for both InfiniBand and RoCE from the leader in RDMA technology; accelerators for NVMe-over-Fabrics (NVMe-oF), RAID, crypto and packet processing; and PCI Express Gen3 and Gen4, with either x8- or x16-lane configurations.

It also delivers integrated low-latency PCIe switch with up to 8 external ports for flexible topologies; up to 16 ARMv8 Cortex A72 processors with 20MB of coherent cache; 8 – 32GB of on-board DDR4 DRAM; and includes comprehensive virtualization support with SR-IOV. It also features accelerated switching and packet processing (ASAP2) OVS offloads; multi-host and SocketDirect enabling a single adapter to support up to four CPU hosts; and multiple server form-factor options including half-height, half-length PCIe and other configurations.

In data center server environments, the BlueField SmartNIC addresses a wide range of applications, including Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), security and network traffic acceleration. The fully programmable environment and DPDK framework support a wide range of standard software packages running in the BlueField ARM subsystem.

Examples include Open vSwitch (OVS); security packages such as L3/4 firewall, DDoS protection and intrusion prevention; encryption stacks (IPsec, SSL/TLS); and traffic monitoring, telemetry and packet capture

As pressure on the data center’s agility and efficiency continue to rise, intelligent networking solutions must simultaneously deliver higher data throughput, greater flexibility, and offload more and more of the costly host CPU cycles to the NIC. Integrating compute and accelerator resources directly into the NIC boosts the server workload capacity by two to three times, without requiring any additional rack space and without adding significant power.

Cloud and large data center operators need the adaptability and scalability of programmable adapters in order to roll-out new services, features and advanced protocols without opening servers for a hardware upgrade.

“Our BlueField adapters effectively place a Computer in Front of the Computer,” said Gilad Shainer, vice president marketing, Mellanox Technologies. “They provide the flexibility needed to adapt to new and emerging network protocols, and to implement complex networking and security functions in a distributed manner, right at the boundary of the server. This brings more scalability to the data center and enhances security by creating an isolated trust zone.”

“We expect the BlueField SmartNIC adapters to be a compelling offering in the software-defined networking space,” said Bob Wheeler, principal analyst at The Linley Group. “Performance demands in this segment are growing rapidly and Mellanox is well positioned with the ubiquitous driver support of its broadly deployed ConnectX network controller. With the addition of the accelerators and ARM cores, BlueField will enable exciting innovations in server and storage applications.”

“Mellanox BlueField intelligent adapters enable us to achieve higher performance and offload for complex networking and storage workloads,” said CT Sun, the chief architect and vice president of engineering at AIC. “We are pleased to embrace a new generation of Mellanox SmartNICs that enable AIC and our MAX I/O platform customers to create highly differentiated products by enabling fully software-programmable network processing.”

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