Achronix FPGA Powered SmartNICs Push the Boundaries of Smart Networking

October 2, 2023

As the demand for high-performance computing continues to skyrocket with deployments for AI/ML and other complex, data-centric workloads, the need for high-performance networking also grows exponentially. Once the domain of isolated supercomputers, high-performance computing is now seen at all levels, from supercomputers to edge solutions, with network security and complexity playing an even more significant role as we push toward faster solutions.

To enable this need for network acceleration and provide a flexible, reprogrammable network, Achronix empowers data center operators, cloud service providers, and telecommunications companies with innovative FPGA-powered SmartNICs built using Achronix Network Infrastructure Code, or ANIC, and Achronix Speedster7t FPGAs. These programmable accelerators integrate state-of-the-art technologies, such as 400 GbE, PCIe Gen 5.0, on-chip networks, and high-speed parallel processing, to offer an unparalleled combination of performance, scalability, and flexibility.

ANIC is a comprehensive suite of modular FPGA IP blocks, providing all of the elements of a SmartNIC solution that are optimized for high-performance networking pipelines. It robustly supports 400 GbE and PCIe Gen 5.0, equipping organizations to swiftly develop high bandwidth SmartNIC solutions tailored to their specific requirements and change as conditions change.

Better Performance, More Agility

To accelerate network performance, more and more customers are turning to SmartNICs, which alleviate the burden on host server CPUs by offloading routine tasks such as packet processing and encryption. In addition to the economic benefit of saving CPU cycles, offloading boosts overall system performance and resource efficiency. SmartNICs are also customizable and programmable, giving users the agility to adapt to evolving networking requirements efficiently.

InfiniBand, or IB, is the traditional network used for high-performance computing. As performant as IB is, it does not provide the flexibility or feature density needed for HPC solutions deployed in traditional data centers where Ethernet is the standard network protocol. Achronix’s ANIC solution supports 400 GbE and enables fast data transfer rates while also providing the ability to deploy network applications on the NIC, which can significantly boost application performance and reduce transaction latency. The FPGA-based ANIC approach stands out with exceptional determinism and delivers consistently lower application latency, making ANIC a prime choice for applications with stringent real-time processing demands.

One approach to SmartNIC architecture is adding compute elements, such as Arm cores, to a high-performance network datapath to enable flexible and programmable networking. While adding CPU cores does provide offload and application acceleration capability, processor cores are limited in the network performance that they can provide. Power and space constraints limit deployments to 10’s of cores on a single card, instruction sets are limited, and performance is gated.

Instead of limited Arm cores, ANIC runs on high-performance Achronix Speedster7t FPGAs, and ANIC’s modular architecture streamlines the component selection process and expedites the design phase. Moreover, the Speedster7t FPGA’s partial reconfiguration capabilities enable on-the-fly adjustments to meet evolving needs. This deployment agility can lead to significant time and cost savings.

“It’s an order of magnitude leap in performance,” says Scott Schweitzer, Director of SmartNIC Product Planning at Achronix. “What you can do in a microsecond could take milliseconds on an Arm core, and you can do it in nanoseconds, which might take microseconds.”

Building upon ANIC, users have the opportunity to deploy custom IP functions. This custom IP function opens the door to tailored applications, such as key-value stores, intrusion prevention, de-duplication, and other network functions, all operating at 400 GbE network speeds.

FPGA Accelerated SmartNICs in HPC: A Game Changer

HPC environments demand exceptional processing power, efficient data movement, and high-speed interconnectivity to achieve maximum performance. SmartNICs, particularly FPGA-based solutions like those offered by Achronix, seamlessly align with these requirements.

One of the chief advantages FPGA-based SmartNICs offer in HPC is customization. With 400 Gb Ethernet and PCIe Gen5, Speedster7t reprogrammable FPGAs are versatile building blocks for HPC clusters.

Achronix built ANIC to enable users to optimize their network datapath and accelerate networking applications. ANIC provides a full SmartNIC pipeline, including a Packet Interface, FIFO buffer, Header/Parser, Flow Table, Rules Engine, and DMA Engine. Each element can be selected or deselected depending on what a customer needs, allowing for full or partial packet acceleration and reserving up to 50% of the Speedster7t FPGA for customer-developed network acceleration applications.

Speedster7t FPGAs also offer a 2-D Network on Chip, or NoC, that provides up to 20 Terabits per second of bandwidth across the FPGA and further enhances modular application deployment. Each ANIC module can be placed or upgraded on the FPGA in real time, utilizing 80 network access points.

“ANIC logic modules can be combined like Lego blocks to create tailored SmartNIC solutions,” Schweitzer says. “Customers can choose to use some or all of ANIC elements to assemble a solution based on what they’re trying to do.” This modularity ensures that users only employ the modules necessary for their specific applications, eliminating unnecessary overhead.

In HPC, accelerated I/O is crucial. SmartNICs allow for ultra-fast data movement, facilitating the rapid processing of large datasets. In applications like DDoS mitigation, where deeper packet inspection is required, ANIC’s highly parallel FPGA-based design allows for efficient packet processing, ensuring the timely identification and mitigation of threats.

In the age of high-performance computing and data-driven applications, Achronix’s FPGA-powered SmartNICs offer unparalleled speed, offloaded processing capabilities, enhanced security, and exceptional flexibility. Whether you’re seeking high-speed data processing, reduced latency, or improved overall efficiency, SmartNICs are paving the way for the future of high-performance networking. As data continues to surge and applications become increasingly demanding, SmartNICs represent a crucial innovation for anyone looking to push the boundaries of what’s possible in high-performance networking and computing.

 

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