Nvidia's BlueField DPUs combining Mellanox and ARM tech pave way to data center market domination
Will the ARM acquisition enable Nvidia to reign supreme in the server market? That’s what could happen according to many market analysts, but we are not really sure if the deal will actually be finalized. Still, Nvidia is already preparing to put all the newly-acquired IPs to good use, as it recently presented its vision for Data Processing Units (DPUs) meant to complement server-grade CPUs.
Nvidia’s DPU cards are codenamed BlueField and combine technologies from ARM and Mellanox. The current iterations are essentially network cards with an additional ARM-based processor, but Nvidia plans to also add a GPU later on. The network interface is powered by the Mellanox CoonectX-6 Dx processor that enables 2x 100 Gbps data transfer speeds. On the other hand, we have 8x fully programmable ARM Cortex-A72 cores combined with 2x Very Long Instruction Word (VLIW) engines that are meant to relieve the CPUs of some important tasks, making it perform 30% faster.
For example, network mapping tasks are handled via RDMA/RoCE, GPU Direct plus SDN/NVF. Then memory management / storage acceleration tasks are handled via NVMe-oF (over Fabrics), Elastic Block Storage and compression. Finally, security algorithm tasks are handled through “root of trust” encryption, key management and a “regular expression” engine. The current configuration is said to provide enough processing power to replace up to 125 CPU cores for the aforementioned tasks. The software side that facilitates the administration of the DPUs is handled through Nvidia’s proprietary SDK called DOCA (Data Center Infrastructure-on-a-Chip Architecture).
The first DPUs with Mellanox and ARM tech are scheduled to hit the market in 2021 under the BlueField-2 denomination. There will also be a BlueField-2X version that includes an Ampere GPU launching later next year. The Ampere GPU will help with AI-based tasks (60 TOPS performance) and the analysis of abnormal network traffic. Nvidia plans to release a BlueField-3 version by 2022, with improved ARM processors and 400 Gbps NICs, plus a BlueField-3X version including a GPU capable of 75 TOPS. In 2023, Nvidia will be merging the NIC, ARM cores and GPU into a single SoC named BlueFIeld-4 capable of delivering 400 TOPS and 1,000 SPECINT.