Communications service providers are investing heavily in large and hyper-scale data centers to deliver content, data processing and communications services. The applications delivering these services must have access to high-speed storage and networking, be secure and run in a virtualized environment based on software-defined networking (SDN). Virtualization software, load balancing, encryption, deep packet inspection (DPI) and packet processing all require many CPU cycles and can tie up multiple processor cores, reducing the number of cores available for applications.
Smart network interface cards (NICs) offload low-level functions from server CPUs, dramatically increasing network and application performance. By installing smart NICs, communications service providers can deliver significantly better revenue-earning services with a small increase in investment. FPGA smart NICs are programmed using standard FPGA tools or a software development environment supported by operators. Processor-based smart NICs are programmed using standard development tools and software development kits (SDKs). A few smart NIC vendors are also supporting P4, a packet processing language, which is being used to develop solutions based on FPGA smart NICs, processor smart NICs and programmable switches.
Smart NICs are having a big impact on the performance of virtualized applications. By using the right smart NIC and providing the best software support, communications service providers can significantly enhance the services they offer. This report covers the market and applications for smart NICs, the technology and devices inside smart NICs and 18 of the leading vendors. Several vendors are already on their second or third generation of smart NIC, and plans are in place to replace standard NICs in many applications with the latest smart NICs that are optimized for performance, functionality and cost.