Mellanox Runs RoCE and NVMe up to 200 Gbit/s


By: Mary Jander

Digital transformation carries a built-in demand for IT pros: Grow or go. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, hyperscale computing, software-defined anything (SDx) — all require data center performance at new levels.

So it’s no surprise to see activity in the area of Smart NICs (smart network interface cards), which empower network connections instead of throwing more servers at the performance challenge.

Mellanox Technologies, for instance, this week announced that its ConnectX line of SmartNICs now supports links using NVMe over fabrics (NVMe-oF) via both TCP/IP and RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE) running to speeds up to 200 Gbit/s.

The new thing here is support of NVMe over TCP. Mellanox says this enables customers who’ve added flash storage units to older TCP/IP networks to ease the transition to “modern” virtualized connections in the data center.

Mellanox also reiterated that its recently announced ConnectX-6 Dx SmartNICs (now shipping) and BlueField-2 I/O processing units (IPUs — soon to be available) support hardware root-of-trust, or the ability to offload encryption keys and user authentication in order to reduce the burden on hosts. Both products were announced in August. And to top off its spate of news, Mellanox revealed last week that in recent independent tests, the ConnectX outperformed its closest competitor from Broadcom.

Mellanox Merger Still Pending

All these announcements come at a good time for Mellanox, which is still in line to be acquired by chipmaker NVIDIA, probably early in 2020. NVIDIA has cited the potential for the merger to enable innovative products that streamline performance in clouds and elsewhere. Indeed, NVIDIA’s stock price recently rose on what one analyst calls “‘unrivaled’ data center growth prospects.”

More SmartNIC Action?

While Mellanox stirs the SmartNICs pot, competitors aren’t sitting still. It’s possible, for instance, that some SmartNIC activity might evolve from Intel’s plan to purchase a software technology called Smart Edge from Canada’s Pivot Technology for $27 million. Smart Edge is aimed at streamlining data processing in edge networks, which in turn are being driven by the emergence of 5G wireless infrastructure.

Speaking of edge and 5G, Broadcom has released information about new chips geared to passive optical networks (PONs), which are expected to play a role in future applications for AI, IoT, robotics, and virtual reality. Again, not a SmartNIC play, but definitely a signal that data center efficiency is top of mind for makers of IT components.