PowerNIC picnic? Dell preparing SmartNIC’d VxRail

We should soon see VxRail hyperconverged systems fitted with CPU-offloading SmartNICs, according to a blog by a Dell exec.

Ihab Tarazi.

Ihab Tarazi is the CTO and SVP at Dell Technologies Networking and Solutions, and looks after technology strategy and roadmap, and next generation products and platforms. He writes: “VxRail will be the first Dell Technologies solution with SmartNIC/DPU technology to launch in the Spring of 2022” due to “the tight integration with VMware and Dell EMC.”

The card could be branded PowerNIC or PowerDPU to fit in with Dell’s “Power” branding.

The SmartNIC/DPU will be based on Project Monterey in which VMware’s ESXi hypervisor runs on an Arm processor fitted to a smart network interface card plugged into a server’s PCIe slot. The VxRail’s system software will provide the automation, orchestration, and lifecycle management of the SmartNIC/DPU firmware and ESXi software.

The SmartNIC card can replace standalone, purpose-built hardware devices in datacenters or in space-constrained edge locations for enterprises and also telcos. He says the SmartNIC can be used or network monitoring, telemetry and observability functions in a distributed zero-trust environment across cloud and edge instances.

Tarazi says the VxRail system will support P4 programming capabilities to aid adding custom features to the card. It will be the first SmartNIC-equipped Dell server system. We expect PowerEdge options to follow close behind. But not its PowerFlex non-vSphere HCI systems — not unless its hypervisor gets ported to a SmartNIC.

Dell’s converged infrastructure systems, the PowerONE and Dell/Cisco VxBlock, are candidates for SmartNIC use but the latter uses Cisco UCS servers and they would house and interoperate with the SmartNIC. That’s not under Dell’s control. PowerONE is, but its system software would need modifying to interoperate with a SmartNIC running ESXi. The benefits would need to be clearly spelt out too.

And we expect HPE servers and HCI systems and also Nutanix systems to be exploring SmartNIC usage as well. They won’t want to gift Dell a free ride if they can help it.