It's more than a SmartNIC
Hmm. DPUs. Massive innovation going on in this space. The world is going to look a lot different in 5 years, thanks to the DPU.
This is a good article, but I wish it talked more about ALL of the ways the DPU might matter. DPUs are relevant to networking, but the DPU is much bigger than the network. The quote from Kevin Deierling hits the nail on the head.
“The DPU is really good at looking inside data and running storage and compression and security,”
Since the DPU concept is newish, there’s no industry consensus about everything a DPU should do, but everyone does agree that the DPU exists to accelerate I/O by running data-intensive processes both faster and more efficiently than a CPU.
Some of these data-intensive processes are relevant to networking, and so DPUs on a SmartNIC make sense. Others, like erasure coding, fit more comfortably within a storage acceleration mindset, so DPUs could end up on storage controllers. While others, like data-in-motion encryption, relate to security. It's even possible that DPUs could be advantageous for analytics or HPC.
The real point of a DPU is being able to do a wide variety of data-intensive services efficiently, with high performance, at scale, without I/O bottlenecks, and without as much customization. Instead of having a storage controller, a network controller, a security accelerator, etc etc, you have storage nodes powered by the DPU, networking devices powered by the DPU, analytics servers powered by the DPU, all with a single API and programming interface.
Then you end up with cross-functional advantages. Your load balancers get storage optimizations. Your storage servers have improved networking. All your devices get data-in-motion DPU powered encryption. And so on.
What’s really interesting is just how disruptive this could be. Today, AWS Nitro needs a family of cards to perform some of these functions. The promise of the DPU is to do everything with a single card.
Imagine that NVIDIA has the best DPU. Consequently, it could end up with the best NIC, the best storage controller, the best analytics accelerator, the best…
Or a quiet startup might have an architecture that’s twice as fast as the NIVIDIA offering. Who knows?
And if you think this is all vaporware, believe it or not, DPUs for functions outside networking, including storage acceleration, are already quietly chugging away in enterprise production environments. I know of quite a few enterprises who have purchased platforms with DPU (or DPUesque) capabilities because they needed I/O acceleration conventional approaches couldn’t offer.