AMD FPGA Targets 400Gbps Smart NICs

Having closed its Xilinx acquisition, AMD is launching a new FPGA with much more CPU power than previous members of its Versal family, targeting it at 400Gbps smart NICs.
Joseph Byrne
Joseph Byrne

Every company’s approach to smart-NIC chips differs, but AMD stands out for attacking the market from two different directions. The company’s Pensando acquisition netted an SoC that combines CPUs with a P4-programmable data plane, and its Xilinx acquisition yielded an FPGA-based design. AMD’s new FPGA-based chip targets 400Gbps smart NICs and offers much more compute performance than previous Versal chips.

Described initially as a smart-NIC SoC (what we would call a data-processing unit—DPU), the chip is a new member of the company’s 7nm Versal family that targets a wide range of applications. Yet to be named publicly, the new chip massively upgrades the Versal CPU subsystem, employing 16 Arm Cortex-A78AE CPUs and four Cortex-R52 CPUs instead of the earlier Versals’ two Cortex-A72 and two Cortex-R52 CPUs. In a smart-NIC design, the CPUs handle the control plane, while programmable logic implements the high-throughput data plane. The A78AE and R52 cores can operate as lockstep pairs, enabling the chip to target automotive and other safety-critical applications as well.

With the new chip, AMD supports smart-NIC workloads, such as offloading network processing and virtualizing storage. The company provides development tools, software for the CPUs, and logic to be instantiated in the FPGA section. Customers, however, can implement more sophisticated functions, taking advantage of its software and logic programmability. The former Pensando operation, by contrast, provides production-quality software for a range of smart-NIC applications, and its DPU chip can even host VMware.

We expect AMD to support both smart-NIC approaches, targeting each at different segments. Pensando will address enterprises with large data centers and small cloud-service providers that want an off-the-shelf solution. The new Versal device will be mainly for smart-NIC customers developing their own cards—those running proprietary software and handling network protocols in custom logic. Such customers include hyperscalers, high-frequency stock traders, and manufacturers of packet-capture cards.

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