With data center servers poised to handle more networking tasks, such as using Open vSwitch to shuttle east-west traffic, hardware vendor Netronome is launching adapter cards aimed at absorbing some of the blow.
The Agilio CX adapter cards, being announced today, are meant to offload networking tasks so that they don’t eat up too many CPU cycles on the server. It’s an issue that will become more prevalent as technologies such as software-defined networking (SDN) encourage more server-to-server networking, says Sujal Das, senior vice president of Netronome’s data center business unit.
Agilio CX has been sampling for the past two quarters. In fact, it was powering the servers at a workshop I attended in November, where developers learned how to program P4, the next-generation SDN language, on Netronome chips.
Netronome also plans to show off Agilio and announce a customer from the cloud-services milieu, at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona in February. By using Netronome, the customer has been able to shrink the networking load on servers down to one core, where previously it was using 12, Das says.
Agilio CX is sampling in 10- and 40-Gb/s forms, with production volumes due later this quarter. A 25-Gb/s version is due to reach production in the second half of the year.
The cards are meant for deployment in small servers, the type that are one rack unit tall. A higher-end card, Agilio LX, will be based on Netronome’s NFP 6000; the company isn’t giving a timeframe for its availability.
Webscale for the Masses
Like Big Switch Networks, Netronome says it’s making the tricks of webscale cloud providers — the likes of Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google — available to the masses. In this case, the trick in question is hardware-based acceleration. Amazon, for instance, last year acquired Annapurna, a privately owned chip company launched by one of the founders of Marvell.
“What these companies have proven is that server-based networking works — and to achieve it at scale, they use hardware-based acceleration,” says Das.
Networking consumes a lot of x86 cores, particularly if you add factors like security. Virtual machines can be running separate jobs that each need as many as 1,000 policy rules for security and other purposes. The advent of containers could exacerbate the problem.
Netronome’s answer is to offload networking and security to Agilio. It’s a hardware-focused approach, but that doesn’t mean it conflicts with an SDN philosophy or even a white-box switching strategy. Software has to run on some kind of hardware, and specialized hardware can be especially helpful at the upper fringes of performance — high-throughput network security being one example.
In the case of Contrail, Netronome had to add Layer 3 functionality into Agilio. The company hopes to show off the results at MWC.