At VMworld 2020, VMware disclosed Project Monterey, a hardware solution to accelerate data handling. The solution includes an adapter card that adds processing capabilities and custom functionality. Managing data transfer and providing the ability to operate or process data has become the focus in storage architectures to increase performance and offload the main CPU.
The acceleration solution for VMware is Project Monterey – hardware to offload data processing. The add-in card has an ARM processor, an accelerator chip, and supporting network interface hardware. Other vendor approaches usually call this a Data Processing Unit, but VMware has chosen to use the term SmartNIC, which historically was used for TCPIP offload NIC cards. The VMware solution is much more than this.
The ARM processor in the SmartNIC runs ESXi and will execute software that may include applications to operate on data. The SmartNIC presents virtualized devices on the PCIe bus to the core operating environment on the central processor. Storage provided via vSAN will now run on the SmartNIC in addition to NSX services for networking and security. Also moved to the SmartNIC is host management. The SmartNIC running ESXi will manage the ESXi instance running on the x86 CPU.
Besides the expected running of ESXi on the x86 CPU and ESXi running on the SmartNIC, the Monterey announcement also included the statement that other operating systems may be installed on the x86 CPU, specifically calling out Windows and Linux.
The accelerator works with the software on the ARM processor for data services. More detail is expected to be announced as to what those services are in the future.
VMware’s use of their SmartNIC represents a change in the clustering technology since the network interface is handled on the SmartNIC and also makes storage and acceleration available to other nodes. It should be expected that further changes in the clustering architecture will be made as Project Monterey continues to develop.
Partners with VMware for delivering Project Monterey are NVIDIA, Pensando, and Intel.
Project Monterey is an exciting development from VMware, addressing a performance bottleneck in a very comprehensive solution. Moving functionality to the SmartNIC, running ESXi with applications including vSAN, and adding hardware acceleration will change performance dynamics and provide potential for changing the clustering implementation. Evaluator Group believes this is a significant technology advancement that will change the focus for VMware. This is evidenced by some of the descriptions by VMware calling this a Hybrid Cloud Architecture.
We do think the reuse of the name SmartNIC does a disservice to what is being offered because of confusion with the prior offerings. A different name, even the Data Processing Unit name used by other solutions to accelerate the data flow, would be more appropriate.
It will be very interesting to evaluate the performance of SmartNIC and also to see how the other possible future changes affect the overall architecture. The inclusion of NVIDIA with ARM and the NVIDIA’s purchase of Mellanox also makes for an interesting discussion of future offloading functionality as standard offerings.
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