SDN contender Pluribus ports network OS to Nvidia SmartNICs

Here’s another reason to do hyperscale thing of offloading network functions to an accelerator

Software-defined networking contender Pluribus has ported its Netvisor ONE OS network operating system to Nvidia's BlueField-2 data processing units, a new role for the accelerators.

Pluribus has to date offered Netvisor to run on white box switches. The NOS has a peer-to-peer architecture that means a software-defined networking controller isn't needed, an arrangement Pluribus suggests makes for simpler networks and easier propagation of network services.

Porting Netvisor to BlueField means more of the same and puts Pluribus closer to servers than it is today, as the Nvidia device is a network interface card that also has the ability to run other workloads.

In case you've come in late, Nvidia is one of a handful of companies that likes the idea of using jumped-up NICs to run workloads like firewalls or virtual network functions that would otherwise tax a server's CPU. Hyperscalers have done this routinely for a few years now, to isolate customer workloads from housekeeping chores. Nvidia, Intel, VMware and others are now working to make the devices more applicable mainstream, even if they can't all agree on a name: Nvidia prefers "data processing units", Intel likes "infrastructure processing units", and others like the term "SmartNIC".

Whatever Pluribus wants to call them, the company feels that running its NOS in the devices brings SDN into more places and closer to servers – and therefore makes it easier to arrange micro segmentation and therefore improve isolation.

And, given isolation is an important element of the zero trust security concept that's very much in vogue at present, Pluribus thinks having SDN attached to hosts will be welcome.

Another reason for the SmartNIC port is the company's belief that networking pros prefer networking-centric workloads to run on networking devices, and would rather not have to ask ops teams for access to servers to run a NOS.

Service providers, carriers, high-performance computing users and governments are the target for the kit, which will enter field trials in April before general availability later in 2022. Along the way, Pluribus may add other features to the port, including Kubernetes support and IPsec offload.

News of the port means SmartNICs have gained a little more momentum. VMware is rumored to have vSphere integration its sights for later in 2022, while Aruba has put them to work in switches. ®

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