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Hyperscale Needs Hyper-Secure: The Cloud Ethernet Adapter Challenge

October 11, 2019

Interconnections in the data networking and communications industry, including fiber and ethernet infrastructure connecting data centers hosting cloud services, continue to grow as an increasing number of large enterprises and organizations move even their most critical business applications to as-a-service models.

Interconnection is the rocket fuel for digital business and as instances climb how IP infrastructure evolves is critical to economic growth, and cyber security. In the Global Interconnection Index, published by Equinix and sources from several independent analyst reports, Interconnection, or direct and private traffic exchange between key business partners, is becoming the defacto method for companies to operate.

In fact, Interconnection Bandwidth provisioned for this purpose is forecasted to grow by 2021 to 8,200+ Terabits per second (Tbps) of capacity, or the equivalent of 33 Zettabytes (ZB) of data exchange per year, a dramatic increase over the previous year’s projection and ten times the projected capacity of internet traffic. This represents a significant five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 48%, almost double the expected 26% CAGR of global IP Traffic.

Interconnection, done with precision, security and speed, enables many-to-many connectivity among various partners, brings trading counterparties close together for low-latency, cost efficient connectivity (for example large banks), and is delivered through globally dispersed exchange points to ensure proximity and direct connectivity where there are highly dense numbers of people and systems (for example in financial centers like New York, London, and Tokyo).

Mellanox Technologies saw this growth coming and invested tens of millions to become a leading supplier of end-to-end Ethernet and InfiniBand smart interconnect solutions and services for servers and storage.

Their interconnect solutions increase data center efficiency by providing high throughput and low latency, “delivering data faster to applications, unlocking system performance and improving data security,” according to the company.

Their interconnect products include adapters, switches, software and silicon designed to improve application performance for a wide range of markets including cloud and hyperscale, and earlier this month at the NetEvents Global Summit in Silicon Valley unveiled their latest Cloud Ethernet network adaptor.

“The best just got better,” said Yael Shenhav, vice president of Ethernet adapters and SmartNIC for Mellanox, announcing the first shipments of the ConnectX-6 Dx secure 200Gb/s Cloud Ethernet network adapter.

According to 2018 analyst data, Mellanox is the leading vendor of NICs in the high-speed Ethernet (25Gb/s and faster) market segment, with over 65% market share. Shenhav explained that samples of the latest model began shipping to selected customers in the 3Q, and they will become more widely available during the fourth quarter of 2019. 

The company also touted a report by the Tolly Group, which lab tested a number of adapters and concluded that the Mellanox product could handle more connections, transmit more data without packet loss and consume fewer host CPU cycles per packet than alternatives.

According to Kevin Tolly, founder, Tolly Group: “The Mellanox adapter consistently demonstrates higher throughput, better scale, and lower resource utilization. With RoCE, storage traffic, and DPDK, the Mellanox NIC outperformed the Broadcom NIC in throughput, congestion management, and achieved better CPU efficiency.”

New key features associated with the ConnectX-6 Dx add security, most for hyperscalers as cloud, e-commerce, and social media giants have access to the data of hundreds of millions of people. Recent attention to privacy creates a strong incentive to secure users’ data without compromising performance and quality of service.

Shenhav also emphasized that better performance wasn’t the only measure that customers considered.

“Open source and collaboration are also keen interests in the development world,” she said, “and the ability to achieve uncompromising flexibility with software defined, hardware accelerated architecture is fundamental to performance in an increasingly open networking-oriented world.”

Referencing Mellanox’s contributions to the Open Compute Project, Shenhav spoke about several partnerships important to Mellanox at the NetEvents conference, including OEM partners like Dell and HPE, software partners like Microsoft, IBM/Redhat and VMware. “Our commitment to open source is demonstrated by our contributions to the Linux kernel, where we were recently ranked as the number three contributor, ahead of giants like Cisco and Oracle,” Shenhav continued.

Shenhav explained that controllers embedded on Bluefield-2 are ideal for building highly efficient and cost-effective flash storage, security, IoT, and edge computing platforms. BlueField-2 based SmartNICs act as a coprocessor that puts a computer in front of the computer - to transform bare-metal and virtualized environments using advanced software-defined networking, NVMe SNAP storage disaggregation, and enhanced security capabilities. Furthermore, BlueField-2 delivers unmatched performance and efficiency for AI workloads in the cloud or at the network edge.

Juhi Fadia is an engineer, analyst, researcher and writer covering advanced and emerging technologies.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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