Data centre networking: SmartNICs

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This blog post is part of our data centre networking series:

Data centre networking : What is SDNData centre networking : SDN fundamentalsData centre networking : SDDCData centre networking : What is OVSData centre networking : What is OVNData centre networking : SmartNICs

With the explosion of application traffic and the multiplication of data centre workloads during the last decade, east-west traffic greatly increased and ended up impacting the traditional north-south based architectures. This raised the need to review the entire data centre architecture while keeping the goal of meeting performance, security, and monitoring requirements.

From a performance and security perspective, rather than shunting the traffic to centralised security and management blocks within the data centre (which might cause performance issues) or accepting uncontrolled zones, the forwarding and security intelligence can be distributed throughout the data centre.

Innovations like DPDK already provided an efficient way for CPUs to run network and security functions and improve their performance. An even better approach is to have server hosts equipped with a new generation of processors close to the workloads and capable of offloading key functions such as traffic forwarding, firewalling, deep packet inspection, encryption/decryption, and monitoring. These processors are known by different names depending on the chip manufacturer. They are typically called SmartNICs, Distributed Services Cards (DSCs), or Data Processing Units (DPUs). The leading chip manufacturers who are active in this space are NVIDIA, Broadcom, Marvell, Intel, Netronome, and Pensando. They have been transforming traditional


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