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SmartNICs, DPUs, and IPUs to end CPU dominance in data centers

Advancements in cutting-edge technologies are driving growth for Smart Network Interface Cards (SmartNICs), Data Processing Units (DPUs), and Infrastructure Processing Units (IPUs). Global technology intelligence firm ABI Research expects this market to grow significantly, driven by the emergence of highly specialized workloads such as AI/ ML, IoT, and 5G infrastructure.

“The demand for data centers has been exponential, driven by the growth of cloud hyperscalers, such as Alibaba Cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 accelerated the thirst for public cloud platforms. Organizations are moving existing workloads to public clouds and exploring the feasibility of running specific applications that require high processing power on public cloud data centers to ensure business continuity. Large businesses using SmartNICs, DPUs, and IPUs as intelligent offloading engines for high-compute data processing tasks, resulting in a decrease in compute cost and highly optimized CPU performance,” explains Yih-Khai Wong, Distributed and Edge Computing Senior Analyst at ABI Research.

Although the current ecosystem is still in its infancy, this market is characterized by highly innovative solutions. As the demand accelerates, further consolidation of vendors will happen, with the more established players acquiring niche innovative vendors to boost their value proposition further.

Below are the areas of opportunities for the SmartNIC, DPU, and IPU markets:

  • Networking: The most common use of SmartNICs, DPUs, and IPUs. AMD’s Xilinx Alveo portfolio provides Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) that decouples network services from dedicated hardware for high-performance network acceleration.
  • Cloud Computing Platforms: SmartNICs, DPUs, and IPUs are deployed to accelerate data-intensive workloads flowing through the cloud platform. Intel partnered with Google Cloud, with its E2000 IPU powering Google’s new C3 virtual machine.
  • Security: Provide the ability to offload security functions from the CPU, optimizing CPU processing power for core applications. NVIDIA’s BlueField-2 DPU delivers platform security by enabling high-speed encryption and decryption, stateful packet filtering, and pattern matching.

“This market promises to be an exciting area. While we might not see mass adoption of intelligent accelerators in the short term, a scenario where a server is equipped with either a SmartNIC, DPU, or IPU by default might happen sooner rather than later,” Wong concludes.

CT Bureau

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