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Accelerators, Accelerators, Accelerators

By Ron Renwick | Oct 05, 2018
Who among us can’t forget Steve Ballmer’s animated performance at the Microsoft Developers Conference years ago? As intense as he was, he was also right. Developers were key to Microsoft’s success.

Fast forward to 2018 and a slightly different look at a Microsoft initiative. Well, Open19 is more about LinkedIn but the ownership ultimately goes to Microsoft after their $26B acquisition of LinkedIn in 2016. 

At the Open19 Summit last week in San Jose two things were very clear. Open19 is moving forward strongly and the key use case for Open19 is edge compute. One of the biggest challenges for edge compute, as stated at the Open 19 Summit and discussed in Ihab Tarazi’s paper on edge computing, The State of the Edge, is that real estate is limited at the edge. With edge computing we are talking about mini-data centers at the base of a cellular tower or a metro data center with room for only a few racks. Tarazi suggests the magic number for edge data center size is 10 feet in diameter. How do solution providers enable the compute horsepower to enable an explosion of new services when they can install a bunch more servers?

The message at Open19 was clear. Edge compute needs accelerators in order to be successful. Whether it’s FPGAs, GPUs, or SmartNICs, edge computing, as championed by Open19, requires accelerators. 

How can SmartNICs specifically help edge computing?

The first answer is the obvious “CPU core savings.” Using a SmartNIC to offload the entire vSwitch or vRouter data plane enables operators to free up limited CPU cores for application processing, however that has been known for ages. What about SmartNICs for security? Running Connection Tracking on a SmartNIC establishes trusted security zones even when dealing with the onslaught of connected devices accessing an edge data center. 

Speaking of an onslaught of devices, denial of service (DDoS) attacks are coming from more than servers these days. Bi-directional IoT devices can be leveraged for attacks as well. Running a DDoS application using eBPF within the SmartNIC can block attacks as they hit edge servers and before they are overwhelmed. 

Open19 is much more than a new server form factor, it’s an enabler for edge computing, and accelerators like SmartNICs are key to making edge computing successful within the confines of limited real estate and exploding services.