What is SmartNIC? |Asterfusion Marvell Octeon SOC based SmartNIC

December 24, 2021

written by Asterfuison

SmartNIC( smart network interface card) is a programmable accelerator which enables data center networking, storage and security more scalable, flexible and particularly efficient.

When smartphone appeared 15 years ago, it changed mobile communication completely. Today, smart network interface card ( SmartNIC ) is setting off a similar revolution in the data center. However, what is SmartNiC and How do you use it ? We will reveal it in this article.

Why We Need SmartNIC?

With the rapid development of cloud and virtualization technologies in data centers,the Open vSwitch (OVS) and various virtualization network functions implemented on X86 based on Kernel architecture already cannot guarantee forwarding performance and consume a lot of computing resources. 

Traditional NIC

Then, DPDK came along, and the performance was greatly improved, but the processing still relies on servers and standard network interface card (NIC)  that weren’t optimized  for data transmission, and there are still performance bottlenecks and the problem of occupying too much computing resources.

DPDK appears , the performance was greatly improved, but the processing still relies on servers and standard network interface card (NIC)  that weren't optimized  for data transmission

The growth of CPU computing power couldn’t catch up with the growth of network transmission rate, the demand for specialized computing on the network side is highly increasing. How to solve the contradiction between application function requirement and software implementation?

What is SmartNIC?

As a result, the hardware-based Smart Network interface Card (SmartNIC ) is born. SmartNIC is a programmable accelerator which enables data center networking, storage and security more scalable, flexible and particularly efficient.

SmartNIC  is to meet acceleration requirements of the data plane forwarding and reduce the burden of CPU computing power.

Offloading Tasks from CPU To SmartNIC 

SmartNICs are actually network interface cards (NICs) with a smart brain. The brain can be a CPU, FPGA, or ASIC or system-on-a-chip (or SoC). It allows the SmartNIC to offload various processing like virtual network, security, storage, etc. that should otherwise be relegated to the server CPU. The born of SmartNIC satisfies the data plane forwarding’s acceleration requirements and reduces the burden of CPU computing power.

Types of SmartNICs

  • FPGA-based SmartNIC : The FPGA-based SmartNIC significantly accelerates networking functionality compared to a solely software-based implementation. It has excellent performance but the most expensive price and the highest complexity to program.
  • ASIC (Application-specific integrated circuits)-based SmartNIC: ASIC based SmartNIC contains many software-programmable microprocessor cores, which can take the burden off the CPU, such as standardizing security and storage protocols. In general, it has excellent cost performance meanwhile, it’s not that difficult to program and extend. However, its flexibility is limited to predefined functions.
  • SoC(system-on-chip)-based SmartNIC (DPU): SoC(system-on-chip)-based SmartNIC can connect at least one or more CPUS with standard NICs. It can be programmed using P4 or C/C++. Overall, it has a good price/performance ratio, the highest flexibility and the easiest programmability.

These different implementations have trade-offs in cost, ease of programming, and flexibility.  ASICs are cost-effective and can offer the best value for cost/performance, but its flexibility is limited.  By contrast, the FPGA-based SmartNIC is highly programmable. It can barely support any functions relatively efficiently within the limitations of the available doors if given enough time and effort. However, FPGA is the most difficult to program with highest price. Soc-based SmartNICs may offer the best SmartNIC implementation option: good price/performance, easy programming with highest flexibility.

Asterfusion SOC(DPU) based SmartNIC vs FPG-based SmartNIC

Asterfusion Marvell Octeon TX CN9670 SOC based SmartNIC

Asterfusion Helium SmartNIC is a 25GE Ethernet smart network interface card based on a high-performance SoC chip (24-core ARM integrated with multiple hardware-acceleration co-processors). It can provide up to 100Gbps multi-functional service processing capability which enables customers to build high-performance intelligent programmable networks while preserving valuable computing resources in servers and reducing the total CAPEX of cloud data centers.

How Does SmartNIC Work?

In the cloud era, the demand for virtualization features is getting increasingly higher ,and the requirements for network functions are also enhancing which requires the network architecture to be more open.

Based on Asterfusion’s fully open software architecture, which creates an open and compatible network ecosystem for our customers.

Software development on Asterfusion SmartNIC
Software development on Asterfusion SmartNIC

Through a very simple compilation process various x86-based DPDK applications and generic Linux drivers can be easily ported to Asterfusion Helium SmartNIC. Customers can flexibly combine functions based on their network actual requirements to meet deployment needs in different environments, as easily and quickly as people install various apps on their phones according to their preferences.

DPDK applications and generic Linux drivers can be easily ported to Asterfusion Helium SmartNIC.

Asterfusion Helium SmartNIC comes with a basic network operating system, FusionNOS- Framework. Network developers can use FusionNOS-Framework as the foundation to develop their own upper-layer applications, thus accelerating application porting & development.

Asterfusion Helium SmartNIC comes with a basic network operating system framework, FusionNOS- Framework.

Asterfusion Marvell SOC based SmartNIC Architecture & Character

Asterfusion Smartnic architecture
Asterfusion Smartnic architecture

Asterfusion SmartNIC Use case

SmartNIC has various usage, ranging from network acceleration, storage acceleration to security acceleration. 

Networking Functions

Such as VTEP, OVS offload, TCP offload, GRE/GTP tunnel encapsulation and decapsulation, reliable UDP,etc.

Security functions:

Such as IPSec, SSL, XDP/eBPF, vFW/vLB/vNAT, DPI, and DDoS  defense,etc.

Storage Functions:

Such as NVMe-oF (TCP) and data compression/decompression,etc.

Marvell SOC -based SmartNIC Application Scenarios

Asterfusion SmartNIC can be widely used in network acceleration, storage acceleration, security acceleration and others. We have also conducted many application scenarios verification practices, such as cloud network function offloading (OVS/VXLAN), 5G UPF, SSL offloading, network visibility ,etc.  

✻ Cloud network offload acceleration

Asterfusion SmartNIC can support a variety of cloud network offloading implementation. Customers can deploy flexibly according to their needs, which maximizes the utilization efficiency of server resources and delivers performance improvements for their business applications.

Cloud network offload acceleration

✻ 5G UPF

Asterfusion SmartNIC supports the complete UPF functions offload (signaling plane and user plane), realizing seamless integration with MEC Host,which ensures logical isolation between UPF and MEC, without affecting each other.

UPF no longer relies on the processor of the server, and does not need to consider the compatibility and adaptation of VNF and edge cloud either. It can effectively reduce the security risks of the core network and reduce the difficulty of UPF and MEC co-platform deployment in edge scenarios.

Asterfusion SmartNIC supports the complete UPF functions offload

✻ Cloud network offloading while integrated visualization

Asterfusion SmartNIC can load various third-party VNF functions based on the container environment while offloading cloud network functions, meantime, providing flexible traffic scheduling capabilities for external networks, VMS, and VNF containers.  

Asterfusion Marvell SOC based SmartNIC Feature Summarize:

Asterfusion SmartNIC Feature Summarize :
  • Up to 100Gbps multi-functional service processing capability
  • DPDK applications on x86 can be easily ported
  • Deployed in many scenarios like network, security and storage acceleration offload

Asterfusion Networks is the leading provider of open networking infrastructure solutions. We provide an open, disaggregated, and highly programmable network fabric for next generation data centers and campus with white-box switching. 

For more information on Asterfusion’s products and solutions, please visit https://cloudswit.ch/. For sales inquiries, please send an email to [email protected]

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