Intel announces a series of network adapters with additional functions: the Infrastructure Processing Unit (IPU). Programmable logic chips (FPGAs) play a role here, but Intel also develops specialized SmartNIC chips as application-specific components (ASICs).
The nitro technology of the world’s leading cloud provider Amazon AWS shows the way: “Intelligent network adapters” (SmartNICs) are supposed to both relieve and accelerate cloud servers. A SmartNIC takes on tasks such as the encryption and decryption of data streams, deduplication and compression of data for (NVMe-oF-) storage systems.
The VMware project Monterey aims to integrate SmartNICs. Microsoft Azure also uses Intel FPGAs as network helpers.
Intel’s Programmable Solutions Group (PSG), which emerged from the acquired company Altera, already has SmartNICs like the Intel FPGA Programmable Acceleration Card (FPGA PAC N3000) on offer. But Intel is continuing with the IPUs, as Guido Appenzeller, who used to work for VMware among others, emphasizes, who now works at Intel as CTO of the Data Platforms Group.
Intel’s IPU competes with Nvidia’s “Data Processing Unit” (DPU) called Bluefield and with products from Xilinx (Alveo), Fungible, Kalray (MPPA), Marvell (Octeon LiquidIO), Netronome (Agilio), Broadcom (Stingray) and others Pensando (Capri). For Monterey, VMware cooperates with partners Intel, Nvidia and Pensando.