Project Monterey: No word yet on Broadcom backing

Project Monterey, the joint venture between Dell, VMware, and Nvidia to put vSphere on a DPU (data processing unit) to offload storage and networking tasks from a host x86 CPU, appears to be in the R&D waiting room, with wannabe VMware acquirer Broadcom not publicly confirming support for it and VMware itself not offering even half-hearted backing.

Started in 2020 by VMware and Nvidia, the Monterey initiative was introduced as a new security model that offloads hypervisor, networking, security, and storage tasks from the CPU to the DPU.

Yet since Broadcom confirmed its intent to buy VMware, the fate of Project Monterey has been called into question. The EU Commission previously looked into the competitive implications of the acquisition and, among its concerns, said in December: “In 2020, VMware launched Project Monterey with three SmartNICs sellers (NVIDIA, Intel and AMD Pensando). Broadcom may decrease VMware’s involvement in Project Monterey to protect its own NICs revenues. This could hamper innovation to the detriment of customers.”

Fast-forward to July and the EC conditionally approved the takeover of VMware, saying: ”Broadcom would have no economic incentive to hinder the development of SmartNICs by other providers by decreasing VMware’s involvement in Project Monterey, an ongoing cooperation with three other SmartNICs sellers (NVIDIA, Intel and AMD Pensando), as such foreclosure would not be profitable.”

However, B&F asked Broadcom for its view on Project Monterey this month and a company spokesperson said: “I’m afraid Broadcom can’t answer this one,” which isn’t exactly a glowing confirmation of its involvement.

Others were more definitive. Dell told us: “We plan to continue our VMware collaboration to support vSphere Distributed Services Engine (previously known as Project Monterey) with our latest generation VxRail systems, which provides the most flexible configurations of any generation to date. We have enabled configurations for a variety of use cases including GPUs, DPUs and increased storage density with rear drives.”

VMware has a microsite for the vSphere Distributed Services Engine (vDSE) with text, a video, and a downloadable ebook. The intent is to provide supercharged workload performance with the DPU’s host server infrastructure offload functions. The structure behind this is to have a vSphere ESXi hypervisor on the DPU run VMware infrastructure app services: vSphere Distributed switch, NSX Networking, and NSX Distributed Firewall, storage services and infrastructure management, for example.

A diagram shows how these are related:

The future of Project Monterey

The text says that vDSE’s NSX Distributed Firewall is available as a tech preview; NSX Distributed Firewall being available as a beta feature in NVX v4. The ebook also notes that having bare metal Windows and Linux OSes on the DPU, plus Storage Services, and Infrastructure Management are not available in vSphere 8. Presumably we’ll need a future vSphere release to bring these functionalities to the DPU.

The ebook discusses a vendor ecosystem comprising Dell, Intel, HPE, Lenovo, Nvidia, Pensando, and VMware.

The future of Project Monterey

Substantial involvement. But recent comments from VMware at VMworld Explore in Las Vegas cast a shadow over this: the port of ESXi to Arm for the BlueField system was experimental. VMware CTO Kit Colbert said: “As we look forward we are continuing to evaluate supporting the mainboard processor.” 

All CEO Raghu Raghuram would say is that VMware is considering taking its virtual storage and networking tech to Arm. In other words, there is no current commitment to keep supporting the vDSE software stack on BlueField DPUs or other Arm-powered DPUs and SmartNICs.