Pensando goes to Monterey to compete with NVIDIA’s BlueField-2 SmartNIC

Data processing unit/server offload card startup Pensando is offering competition to NVIDIA’s BlueField-2 SmartNIC and preventing it walking all over VMware-using data centres.

Pensando’s Distributed Service Card can run the vSphere hypervisor and perform similar — if not more — server offload functions than the BlueField-2 card in VMware’s Project Monterey.

Christopher Ratcliffe.

It is, according to a blog by Pensando’s chief marketeer Christopher Ratcliffe: “A generation ahead of the nearest competitor, offering class-leading capabilities and order of magnitude improvements in scale, latency and jitter with a low power profile (20W @ 25G, ~30W at 100G)The Pensando platform is capable of applying services to up to tens of million packets per second, with a scale of millions of routes and ACLs, while maintaining latency and jitter measured in microseconds.”

We think the “nearest competitor” is a reference to NVIDIA’s BlueField-2 SmartNIC.

Ratcliffe says the Pensando-Monterey program, which can use Dell and HPE server systems and is certified by VMware to run ESXi on the card’s Arm cores, provides:

  • Security + storage + networking server offload + real-time telemetry simultaneously;
  • Operating VMotion and having an accelerated virtual machine data path at the same time — it’s not an either-or choice;
  • A 4x to 5x performance advantage over Arm-based smartNICs, without naming NVIDIA’s Arm-powered BlueField-2 — it has 8x A72 Arm cores.

Pensando’s DSC has Arm cores alongside its Capri-branded programmable P4 processor and supports PCIe Gen-3 and -4. The card provides NVMe virtualization, NVMe-oF with RDMA or TCP transport, AES-XTS data-at-rest encryption, compression, SHA-3 deduplication, and CRC64/32 acceleration. It delivers 100Gbit/sec full duplex bandwidth with 3μs latency, also 100Gbit/sec encryption and compression throughput.

BlueField-2 supports NVMe-oF Storage Direct, encryption, elastic storage, data integrity, compression, and deduplication, and delivers 9 SPECint, 0.7 TOPS and 200Gbit/sec.

Pensando’s Alex Seibulescu blogs: “The DSC can run software written in C on its Arms just like the other SmartNICs but more impressively, it can run software written in P4 on its hardware datapath, which allows it to run any combination of networking functions, load balancing, firewalling, compression, encryption, and storage functions, all at the same time and at wire speed.”

Ratcliffe emphasises that “We’re working very closely with VMware to ensure we leverage the full capabilities of the hardware and software stack beyond what customers can do today.”

Interested customers can join the Monterey Early Access program with Pensando hardware. They can get a DSC-100 product brief here.

It will be fascinating to see performance comparisons between the Pensando DSC and NVIDIA BlueField-2 cards. It will also be fascinating to see if Nutanix or another KVM hypervisor user starts a server offload project like VMware’s Project Monterey.