AMD’s $1.9 billion acquisition of Pensando would put the chipmaker alongside Intel and Nvidia in competition for business from large enterprises deploying smartNICs as critical infrastructure for modernized data centers running private clouds. .
This week, AMD revealed plans to acquire a Milpitas, Calif., maker of programmable package processors before July. Pensando technology competes with the digital processing units (DPUs) that Intel and Nvidia make for smartNICs.
Companies like Pensando client Goldman Sachs use smartNICs with processors that can offload telemetry, security, storage and networking services from a server’s CPU. The architecture dedicates more CPU power to running applications that drive a company’s business.
In addition, the architecture provides centralized software-defined control of services. That’s “very important to ensure operational efficiency,” said Bob Laliberte, a senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group.
AMD is a long-time supplier of server CPUs, so the acquisition could help Pensando accelerate growth of its core business and allow it to pursue a much larger customer base in more markets, Pensando CEO said, Prem Jain, in a statement.
The Pensando packet processor uses an ARM core to control and monitor packet paths, while allowing smartNIC manufacturers to use the specialized P4 programming language to tailor the data plane to customer use cases.
Intel began applying a similar technique with its 2019 acquisition of Barefoot Networks, a switch chip maker. Nvidia’s smartNIC technology is the programmable BlueField DPU. The company has partnered with VMware to offer its ESXi hypervisor on BlueField.
Delivery of services on smartNICs to boost application performance began with public cloud providers such as AWS and Microsoft Azure. AMD, Intel and Nvidia want to work with companies that plan to mimic the architecture in their private clouds.
“What you get with the likes of Thinking is a building block that disrupts the way people have traditionally built infrastructure for 30 years,” said Ashish Nadkarni, group vice president in IDC’s infrastructure practice.
Thinking, Intel and Nvidia approach DPUs from a different perspective, Nadkarni said. Thinking, founded by former Cisco CEO John Chambers, leans toward networking, AI from Nvidia and Intel machine learning, and real-time network telemetry.
Ashish NadkarniGroup Vice President, IDC
The “low-hanging fruit” for businesses today is using smartNICs to collect and analyze telemetry to measure what’s happening on a network, said Silvano Gai, a member of Pensando Systems and author of Building a future-ready cloud infrastructure of Pearson, in a recent interview.
Another useful purpose with little overhead is the distribution of network bypasses, which are external monitoring devices that mirror traffic between two network nodes, according to Gai. Faucet manufacturers design them so that they do not impede the flow of production traffic.
With Pensando, AMD has the option to offer a distributed services platform that companies can deploy with minimal disruption to servers in their data centers, said ESG’s Laliberte.
Last year, Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company, launched the CX 10000 series of top-of-rack switches, including the Thinking platform. The hardware offers distributed network and security services without replacing servers or adding smartNICs.
As a result, the option isn’t disruptive to existing data centers because “you’re not going to go in and open up a server,” Laliberte said.
Enterprise Strategy Group is a division of TechTarget.
Antone Gonsalves is the news director for Networking Media Group. He has a deep and wide experience in technology journalism. Since the mid-1990s, he has worked for UBM’s InformationWeek, TechWeb, and Computer Reseller News. He has also written for Ziff Davis’s PC Week, IDG’s CSOonline and IBTMedia’s CruxialCIO, rounding it all out by covering startups for Bloomberg News. He began his journalistic career at United Press International, working as a reporter and editor in California, Texas, Kansas and Florida.