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Nvidia says its SmartNICs sizzled to world record storage schlepping status

But did so operating as NICs – the real fun starts in mid-2022 when VMware’s hypervisor for SmartNICs should land

Nvidia has claimed a world record for storage IOPS using its Bluefield data processing units (DPUs).

The Bluefield kit is Nvidia’s take on a “SmartNIC” – a network interface card bulked up with a decent CPU so it can run workloads such as firewalls or encryption engines, so that CPUs can be freed for more important tasks. Hyperscalers routinely use SmartNICs and the likes of Nvidia, Intel, and VMware are working to bring them into mainstream data center scenarios.

Nvidia’s benchmark saw a pair of HPE ProLiant DL380 Gen 10 Plus servers hooked up with a dual-100GB ethernet Bluefield aboard each, in a configuration that offered 400Gb/s wire bandwidth between initiator and target. The company used the Storage Performance Development Kit (SPDK) and FIO test, and also targeted the Linux kernel.

Those tests delivered 41.5 million IOPS. In some of Nvidia’s tests, data moved more quickly than is possible with local storage using Intel’s Optane storage-class-memory.

Suffice to say that networked storage being faster than local storage is not supposed to happen!

Nvidia’s post about the test asserts that result handily topped “the previous world record of 10 million IOPS, set using proprietary storage offerings.”

Which is great news for storage admins.

But Kevin Deierling, Nvidia’s senior veep for networking, admitted the test did not simulate a real-world workload, and while SPDK and FIO ran on the Bluefields’ CPUs it also did not directly demonstrate how DPUs/SmartNICs can help CPU performance.

Instead, he explained, the test shows that Bluefields can saturate a 400Gb/s network, which is nice to know because when AI applications need data, they need it sooner rather than later.

Deierling said demos that show how DPUs/SmartNICs can benefit more mainstream workloads will be forthcoming in 2022, especially mid-year when he expects VMware’s Project Monterrey – a cut of VMware’s hypervisor running on a SmartNIC/DPU – will become generally available.

The veep said Nvidia has already seen strong interest from security and networking vendors that want to run their wares on Bluefield DPUs, naming Palo Alto, Juniper, Checkpoint and F5 as having come to play.

VMware’s Project Monterey is the most prominent attempt to make DPUs/SmartNICs applicable to mainstream data centers. VMware has promised to make offload of workloads to the devices a core part of its Cloud Foundation suite, the product it offers as the easiest way to build a hybrid cloud. ®

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