Netronome Unveils Draft Specification for Open, Bare Metal SmartNICs at OCP Summit 2017

By Netronome | Mar 08, 2017

Install and Configuration of Open NICs (ICONICS) Draft Specification provides best practices guidelines to repurpose the Open NIC Data Path functionality on-demand.

Netronome is at the Open Compute Project (OCP) Summit in Santa Clara this week introducing the Install & Configuration of Open NICs (
ICONICS) initiative and a related draft specification. The draft specification provides open guidelines for packaging data plane firmware applications and aims to standardize how the functionality of a bare metal Open NIC (network interface card) installed in COTS and OCP servers can be altered in the field to suit the needs of data center operators. Netronome Agilio CX SmartNICs are now available for use as open, bare metal NICs. The ICONICS initiative, combined with the flexibility of Open NICs, will enable innovative business and efficient operational models.

Today, data center operators implement a rich set of networking services on servers like quality of service, switching, security functions, security groups, load balancing, etc. For these services, the selection, design and implementation choices vary significantly across data center operators. Server-based networking software solutions offer the flexibility required to change data planes, but suffer a significant performance and efficiency penalty as many CPU cores get used up performing network processing, thereby starving applications. Data center operators have faced a choice between innovation and performance in realizing these server-based networking services. As data centers embrace network architectures based on software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), the rate of change in the data plane in server-based networking will continue to increase.

The growth of NFV and SDN technologies is increasingly leading data center operators to replace fixed function NICs with SmartNICs – NICs that can be reprogrammed by an operator to the specific data plane applications needed and have the applications be potentially deployed or updated in the field. SmartNICs, and in general, programmable accelerator devices used in data center servers, usher in the possibility of Open NICs where the operator defines the behavior of the NIC rather than the NIC supplier, and a new deployment model for NICs in a bare metal form, also known as, Open NIC. Open NICs may have to support multiple data plane technologies including load balancing, in-band network telemetry, virtual switching, virtual routing, Extended Berkeley Packet Filter (eBPF), and security groups and protocols.

At the Netronome booth at OCP, we are showcasing how data plane functionality on an Open NIC can be changed on demand. We are demonstrating the Netronome Agilio SmartNIC platform and how its personality can be changed from a basic data plane – like in a traditional fixed-function NIC – to a full Open vSwitch (OVS) v2.6 data plane offload NIC. This demo utilizes the Agilio CoreNIC and Agilio OVS software packages. This allows the data center operator to use a homogenous server-networking hardware infrastructure, and install and configure the networking data plane on the “bare metal” Open NICs on-demand. By doing so, the data center operator can gain unprecedented operational efficiencies in its server infrastructure by avoiding silos of servers installed with fixed and diverse networking configurations that cannot be changed fast enough to meet the needs of changing workloads in VMs. Besides, use of high-performance offloads such as with Agilio OVS offers up to 6X more output per server per dollar spent while maintaining complete vendor independence and mobility of virtual machines (VMs) that service next-generation applications.

At OCP Summit, we will also show an early prototype of an eBPF data plane installed and accelerated on an Open NIC. This is being demonstrated using the Agilio CX SmartNIC platform. eBPF support in Linux allows developers to write their server networking applications in a hardware-independent byte code format and then use a vendor-specific, just-in-time compiler at run time to map the application to the Open NIC.

In addition, Netronome expert Nic Viljoen will present “SmartNIC Data Plane Acceleration and Reconfiguration in OCP servers for Data Center Operators.” This engineering workshop will focus on using Berkeley Packet Filter (BPF) offload for reconfiguring the data path on demand from applications writing to BPF bytecode. Also, Netronome will introduce the ICONICS initiative, including the goals of the first draft proposal for the specification and proposed deployment architecture.

At the Barefoot Networks booth at OCP, Netronome will be jointly demonstrating a solution that combines the unique capabilities of our Agilio SmartNICs with Barefoot's P4-programmable switch to deliver precise and real-time network telemetry information needed to detect, root-cause and correct network problems causing poor service quality and connection drops. This solution demonstrates how to better triangulate performance issues in VMs, NICs in servers or network switches, making it possible to immediately detect low-performing networks functions. The demo will be implemented using P4 in SmartNICs and network switches to pinpoint latency degradation caused by VMs, generating triggers that can be used to automatically fire up new VMs or move VMs to servers with more resources.