Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Wednesday, October 5, 2022

‘Neural’ Network Fabric Boosts Server Links 


As network bottlenecks mount in datacenters—a hurdle that will only get worse with the deployment of business analytics using machine learning—there is a growing need for networking solutions that can scale to tens of thousands of connections without breaking the bank. As things stand now, only hyper-scale cloud service providers can achieve the economies of scale that make smart network interface cards (NIC) a viable option.

Comes now network latency battler Solarflare with a "neural-class" software-defined NIC fabric the company claims is capable of 10,000 server rack connections. With soaring data traffic in mind, the company describes the scalable fabric as a general-purpose NIC equivalent to hyper-scale approaches based on FPGAs and network processors.

Solarflare, Irvine, Calif., asserts that its smart fabrics approach combines the best performance features of an FPGA with the affordability and scaling of a software-defined NIC.

Seeking to stay ahead of analytics and machine learning deployments in the datacenter, vendors like Solarflare are anticipating the need for server clusters with thousands of cores connected via neural-class networks. Among the advantages of the combination of FPGAs and NICs is the ability to inspect data packets at "line speed."

Previously, "very few application servers needed the power to inspect packets at line speed, nor the intelligence to shape a network, and when they did this rare capability was provided by expensive FPGAs," explained Ahmet Houssein, vice president of marketing at Solarflare.

"Today, there is a pervasive need by analytics, machine learning and security applications for sophisticated packet processing, and NICs are a perfect platform because they’re designed into every server in the datacenter," Houssein asserted.

As for breaking network bottlenecks, the company claims its smart fabric provides the extreme scaling that would allow a server rack to approach human neuron connectivity at the level of 10,000 connections.

The networking specialist is seeking to keep pace with hyper-scalers in the ongoing effort to deploy networking technologies that will link millions of servers in corporate datacenters. Solarflare notes the Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) are deploying configurable cloud architectures that make greater use of programming hardware and software-defined networking. Both are instrumenting servers with smart NICs and security chips intended to offload servers from tasks such as security and performance enhancement.

Those enhancements are, of course, proprietary. Hence, Solarflare sees an opportunity to provide a network fabric that scales without breaking the bank. The smart NIC fabric offers up to 100 Gb of bandwidth along with the ultra-low latency (<1 microsecond), a capability Solarflare has already delivered for applications like high frequency trading.

Once the software-defines NICs are installed in servers, fabric applications can provision performance, security and visibility applications for workloads running on physical servers, virtual machines and emerging container-based micro-services.

A security feature that monitors packet flows to servers will be available in the second half of this year. Meanwhile, Solarflare said a network analytics application would be available in early August.


About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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