Fungible aims to slay the CPU bogeyman with composable microprocessor

Fungible Inc, a US composable systems startup, wants to front-end every system resource with its DPU microprocessors, offloading security and storage functions from server CPUs.

The company has not announced product yet, but a set of videos and white papers on its website provide a fairly detailed picture. We think product launch is likely in mid-to-late 2020.

Fungible’s DPU concept

Fungible is building a fully programmable microprocessor – it calls this a data processing unit (DPU) – that interlinks all resource elements in a composable system infrastructure.

According to Fungible, server CPUs are compute-centric and are ill suited for data-centric workloads. The company notes general-purpose server CPUs were developed to process as many instructions per second as possible. However, Moore’s Law is plateauing and CPUs can no longer keep up with the IO burden of today’s data-intensive environments.

Fungible DPU diagram

Many workloads are already offloaded to specialised GPUs and FPGAs which are more efficient at processing certain kinds of tasks. But Fungible claims server CPUs and other specialised compute resources can be used much more efficiently by linking them to storage resources across an Ethernet network. The network and its DPU edge devices perform the data-centric work, freeing server CPUs for application processing.

The server CPUs, GPUs, FPGAs, ASICs are thereby made fungible. (A fungible resource is one whose function can be carried out by any other unit of that resource, just like a single dollar bill can be replaced by any other dollar bill, or a gallon of gas by another gallon of gas.)

The server processors can be dynamically composed into processing systems sized for particular workloads, and their elements returned to the pool for re-use when the job is finished.

Fungible’s DPUs enable this composability of the varied compute resources, plus persistent memory (Optane), SSDs and disk drives. They offload certain storage and security-related functions from the server CPUs, such as encryption and decryption, compression and decompression and firewall services.

Fungible fact file

Fungible was founded in 2017 by CEO Pradeep Sindhu and Bertrand Serlet, and is based in Santa Clara, California.

LinkedIn lists 181 employees and the startup has taken in $292.5m in three rounds of funding, including a $200m C-round led by Softbank Vision in 2019.

Pradeep Sindhu (left), Betrand Serlet.

Sindhu and Serlet both worked at Xerox PARC back in the day.

Sindhu was the founding CEO and chairman of Juniper Networks, then Vice Chairman, CTO, and Chief Scientist. He left the company in February 2017 to found Fungible. 

Serlet founded Upthere, a consumer cloud storage business acquired by Western Digital in 2017. Prior to that he was SVP of Software Engineering at Apple. 

Composable competition

Fungible will face competition from five composable vendors.

At time of writing, only Liqid can compose a set of resources as extensive as Fungible aims to provide. It is funded to the tune of $50m – considerably less than Fungible – but has live product in the market.

Fungible says its DPUs offload storage and security services from server CPUs. On that basis, a Fungible setup with the same set of server resources as a Liqid system should outperform the latter in terms of application workload. Let’s wait for launch and performance benchmarks.