For many, the DPU is associated with the Smart NIC and the boundary between computing and networking. Therefore it has a finite market size tied to the number of servers and appliances in the market. DPU history focused on offloading the processor with storage, basic security, and virtualization allowed the CPU cores on a server to be 100% utilized for workloads and not for tasks viewed as overhead.
Today the market for DPUs is very different and in the early stages of redefining many markets. Today’s DPU metrics are impressive and altering the conversation. For example, two-three years ago, it was about getting to 100% utilization and defined to a handful of use cases. Today the DPU accelerator can do more, not only offloading basic tasks but accomplishing processing that would take multiple servers to achieve in one card. This is a game-changer and becomes a building block to future data centers looking and acting differently than the current paradigm.
The DPU, and general accelerators, create new markets now and are at the forefront of several technology innovation cycles. They are not only disrupting adjacent markets with new architectures but are developing new use cases and applications. DPUs in the Telcom market was an adjacent natural market, and we highlight a set of new announcements below on several new areas the DPU is taking over:
— NVIDIA and Palo Alto Networks (May 2021) announce high-end next-generation firewall(NGFW): Palo Alto’s firewall, running on BlueField-2, opens up the entire firewall space to the DPU market. DPUs can replace custom silicon and achieve better performance. This becomes critical as the security market transitions to Cloud and as-a-Service models.
— NVIDIA and Marvel (MWC 2021 and 2022) announce multiple edge computing, NFV, RAN initiatives: Over the past two years, Marvell and NVIDIA have made significant strides in addressing almost the entire Telecom infrastructure hardware stack. For example, today, a Telecom SP can run RAN baseband directly on the DPU based system instead of on proprietary ASICs and hardware. In many cases, the DPU can achieve better cost, power, and performance than previous hardware versions offered by Ericsson, Huawei, and Nokia.
The DPU also lays the hardware building block for Open RAN.
There are many other examples of the DPU moving beyond basic offload and compute tasks. The above examples highlight new markets for the DPU that are direct replacements of legacy products. To date, much of 2021 has highlighted Telco markets and been SP-focused. That brings us to the enterprise which has several opportunities ahead for DPUs and is more forward-looking:
— AI/ML workloads in the enterprise: This market remains in its infancy, mostly around basic inference in a few verticals. However, all enterprises will go through a digital transformation around AI or go out of business. AI in the enterprise will be many new applications ranging from business intelligence and customer interaction to the design of new products.
— Server architectures are changing: Server designs in the enterprise and the overall march towards disaggregated pools of computing, storage, memory, and networking resources will define the next decade. The DPU will play an essential role in this transformation, and it will occur in many parts of the new architecture.
Overall the market for DPU is poised for growth as new workloads and adjacent markets become prime use cases for the technology.
By Alan Weckel, Founder and Technology Analyst at 650 Group.