The use of data processing units (DPU) is beginning to grow in large enterprises as AI, security and networking applications demand greater system performance.
Much DPU development to date has been aimed at hyperscalers. Looking ahead, DPU use in the data center and elsewhere in the enterprise network is expected to grow. One way that could happen is the melding of DPU technology with networking switches – a technology combination AMD Pensando calls a “smartswitch.”
An early entrant in that category is HPE Aruba’s CX 10000, which combines DPU technology from AMD Pensando with high-end switching capabilities. Available since early 2022, the CX 10000 is a top-of-rack, L2/3 data-center box with 3.6Tbps of switching capacity. The box eliminates the need for separate appliances to handle low latency traffic, security and load balancing, for example.
We think smartswitches are the easiest way for enterprises to absorb DPU technology because it lets them retire old appliances and bring significant technology and scale to their networks,” said Soni Jiandani, chief business officer with AMD Pensando’s networking technologies and solutions group. “It lowers the barrier to entry for a lot of businesses as well – if we look at the 300-plus installations of the CX 10000 so far, you see a mix of very large to mid-sized customers looking to take advantage of DPU assets just like cloud customers.”
The smartswitch and DPU integration follows core enterprise initiatives such as consolidation, modernization and security, Jiandani said. “On day one of implementation, it lets them take advantage of great visibility, telemetry and performance.”
While the CX 10000 is the only switch on the market currently to support blended DPU technology, more are expected, experts say.
“During 2022 and in 1Q’23, we saw robust growth in the Smartswitch line from HPE Aruba and the CX 10000 platform. We expect to see more vendor partnerships productizing Smartswitch platforms over the next couple of years, with the most prominent western vendors (Cisco, Arista, Juniper, Dell) to explore and most to release this product class in the 2024 time frame,” stated Alan Weckel, founding technology analyst for the 650 Group, in a recent report.
By the end of the forecast period, over half the ports in the 650 Group’s forecast will be smart or programmable, coming from DPU-based solutions and direct programmability in the ASIC itself, according to Weckel.
“As the data center market moves beyond traditional workloads to AI/ML, the network will need to evolve and become more than just speeds and feeds providing connectivity between compute appliances and the end-user,” Weckel stated.
“Traditional switching ASICs don’t have the processing capacity, sufficient hardware memory resources, or flexible programmable data planes to allow them to implement stateful network functions or services,” Weckel stated. “Networking will become more powerful, and stateful network functions for network virtualization, enhanced security (e.g., stateful firewalls), load balancing, QoS, and cost metering will migrate from costly appliances into Ethernet switches.”
Customers will get increased performance, cost savings, and better agility from their network with DPUs embedded in it, Weckel stated.
In virtual environments, putting functions like network-traffic encryption and firewalling onto DPUs is also expected to drive use of the technology. The processing required to enforce microsegmentation policies that divide networks into firewalled zones can also be handled by smartNICs, experts say.