NVIDIA BlueField-2 DPUs scheduled for delivery in 2021, BlueField-3 and 4 roadmaps by 2023

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Continuing the series of GTC-related announcements this morning, NVIDIA is offering a new update on the status of its Data Processing Unit (DPU) project. An initiative inherited from Mellanox as part of this acquisition, NVIDIA and Mellanox have been discussing their BlueField-2 DPUs for most of last year. And now, the company is finally approaching a release date, with the sampling of BlueField-2 DPUs now, and is expected to ship in 2021.Originally hatched by Mellanox before the acquisition of NVIDIA, the DPU was Mellanox’s idea for the next generation of SmartNICs, combining their network equipment with a moderately powerful Arm SoC to offload various tasks from the host system, such as networking. and software-defined storage, as well as dedicated throttle motors. Mellanox had been working on the project for some time, and although the original BlueField products saw a relatively low-key release last year, the company has been working hard on Bluefield-2, which NVIDIA has since elevated to a much larger position.

This second generation of DPU-accelerated hardware will be known as BlueField-2, and the two companies have been talking about it for most of the past year. Based on a custom SoC, the BlueField 2 SoC uses 8 Arm Cortex-A72 cores as well as a pair of VLIW acceleration motors. All of this is then paired with a ConnectX-6 DX network card for real network connectivity. At a high level, the DPU is intended to be the next step in the gradual move towards domain-specific accelerators in the data center, delivering a more specialized processor that can offload the workloads of networking, storage and host processor security.

Given their success in the data center market by expanding applications for GPUs, it’s easy to see NVIDIA’s interest in the DPU project: it’s another piece of silicon they can sell to OEMs. servers and data center operators, and further undermines the importance of it. thing NVIDIA doesn’t have, a server class processor. So while this is not a project declared by NVIDIA, it is a project that they are embracing and expanding fully.

As most of today’s DPU announcement is a recap for NVIDIA, the actual product plans for BlueField-2 have not changed. NVIDIA will launch two cards equipped with DPUs, the BlueField-2 and the BlueField-2X. The first is a more traditional SmartNIC with the DPU and 2 Ethernet / InfiniBand 100 Gb / second ports. This allows it to be used for networking as well as for storage tasks such as NVMe-over-Fabrics.

Meanwhile, the larger Bluefield-2X incorporates a DPU as well as one of NVIDIA’s Amperes-GPUs for additional acceleration via network computing, as NVIDIA likes to call it. NVIDIA did not disclose the GPU used on the BlueField-2X, but if these renderings are accurate, the memory chip count indicates that it is the GA102, the same chip entering high-end video cards from NVIDIA. . Which would make BlueField-2X a very powerful card when it comes to compute performance.

And NVIDIA’s plans don’t stop at BlueField-2 products. The company has planned a series of cards based on BlueField-2, which will be marketed under the family names BlueField-3 and BlueField-4 over the following years. BlueField-3 will be an upgraded version of BlueField-2, with separate DPU and DPU + GPU cards. Meanwhile, BlueField-4 will be the first part where NVIDIA’s influence turns into central silicon, with the company planning a single high-performance DPU that can dramatically outperform easier discrete DPU + GPU designs. In total, NVIDIA expects BlueField-4 to deliver 400 TOPS of AI performance.

All of this, in turn, will come with NVIDIA’s traditional adoption of hardware and software. The company is looking to mirror its CUDA strategy with DPUs, offering the Data Center Infrastructure-on-a-Chip (DOCA) as the software stack and programming model for BlueField 2 and later DPUs. This means assembling high-quality SDKs for developers and then extending support for those SDKs and libraries over multiple generations. NVIDIA is clearly getting DOCA off the ground, but if history is any indication, software will play a huge role in growing the SmartNIC market, just as it did for GPUs a decade ago.

To conclude, the first BlueField-2 cards are now sampling at NVIDIA partners. Meanwhile, commercial shipments will begin in 2021, and BlueField-3 shipments could follow as early as 2022.

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