112: GreyBeards annual year end wrap-up with Keith & Matt

It’s the end of the year, so time for our regular year end wrap up discussion with the GreyBeards. 2020 has been an interesting year to say the least. It started out just fine, then COVID19 showed up and threw a wrench in everyone’s plans and as the year closes, we were just starting to see some semblance of the new normal, when one of the largest security breaches in years shows up. Whew, almost glad that’s over and onto 2021.

As always the GreyBeards had a great discussion on these and other topics to highlight the year just past. The talk was wide ranging and hard to characterize but I did my best below. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

COVID19s impact on the enterprise

It will probably take some time before we learn the true, long term impacts of COVID19 on IT but one major change has to be the massive Work From Home (WFH) transition that took place overnight.

While WFH can be more productive for some, the lack of face2face interaction can be challenging for others. The fact that many of the GreyBeards have been working from home for decades now, left us a bit oblivious to how jarring this transition can be for newcomers.

There’s definitely some psychological changes that need to occur to be productive at WFH. Organization skills become even more important. Structured interactions (read conference calls, zoom/webex and other forms of communication become much more important. And then there’s security.

Turns out VMware and others have been touting VDI solutions for the past decade or so to better support remote work and at the same time providing corporate levels of security for remote work. While occasionally this doesn’t work quite as well as expected, it’s certainly much much better than having end users access corporate data without any security around that data or worse yet, the “bring your own device”. All these VDI solutions had a field day when WFH happened.

Many workers found they could be more productive at WFH, due the less distractions, no commute time and more flexible hours. What happens when COVID19 is vanquished to all these current WFHers is anyone’s guess.

We thought there might be less need for large office campuses/buildings. But there’s something to be said for more collaboration and random interactions through face2face meetings that can only occur in an office setting with workers present at the same time. Some organizations will take to this new way of work while others will try to dial WFH back to non-existent. Where your organization fits on this spectrum and why, will be telling across a number of dimensions.

The rise of ARM

There’s been a slow but steady improvement in ARM processors over the last almost half century. Nowadays it’s starting to make a place for itself in the enterprise. ARH has always been the goto microprocessor for low power solutions (like smartphones) but nowadays they are being deployed in the cloud and even the enterprise. These can be used as server processors but even outside servers, ARM cores are showing up in hardware accelerators as the brains behind SmartNICs, DPUs, SPUs, etc.

Keith made mention AWS 2nd generation Graviton 64-bit ARM processor EC2 instances. And yes there’s significant cost ( & power) savings that can be had using AWS Graviton ARM instances. So the cloud is starting to adopt them. Somewhere over the past couple of years I heard that VMware was porting ESX to work on ARM cores.

But apparently, it’s not just as simple as dropping an ARM multi-core processor into a server and recompiling your code and away you go. Applications need a certain amount of optimization to run effectively on ARM processors. And the speed up between non-optimized and optimized versions of an application running on ARM cores is significant.

As for SmartNICs and DPUs, these are data networking hardware accelerators that provide real time processing capabilities needed to keep up with higher speed networking, 100GbE and beyond. These DPUs perform deep packet inspection, data compression, encryption and other services all at wire speeds.. Yes you could devote 1 or more X86 cores to do this, but it’s much cheaper (and more effective) to do this outside the CPU core. Moreover, performing this activity at the network entry point to the server means that much of this data doesn’t have to be transferred back and forth through server memory. So not only does it save CPU core cycles but also memory size and memory & PCIe bus bandwidth. We published a recent podcast with Kevin Deierling, NVIDIA Networking discussing DPUs if you want to learn more.

Pat made mention at (virtual) VMworld their plans to port ESX to the DPU. Keith followed up on this and asked some other exec’s at VMware about this and they said VMware will more likely support DPUs as just another hardware accelerator in their cluster. In either case, CPU cycles should be freed up and this should help VMware use X86 cores more efficiently. And perhaps this will help them engage in more CPU constrained environments such as Telcom.

Then there’s computational storage. We have been watching this technology for a couple of years now and it’s seeing some success in being deployed to public cloud environments. They seem to be being used to provide outboard data compression. It’s unclear whether these systems depend on ARM processing or not but my bet is that they do. To learn more about computational storage check out these podcasts, FMS2020 wrap up with Jim Handy and our talk with Scott Shadley on NGD’s computational storage.

System security

At yearend, we are learning of a massive security breach throughout US government IT facilities. All based on what is believed to be a Russian hack to a software package that is embedded in a popular networking tool software solution, SolarWinds. They are calling this a software supply chain hack. Although we are mainly hearing about government agencies being hacked, SolarWinds is also pervasive in the enterprise as well.

There have been many hardware supply chain hacks in the past, where a board supplier used chips or logic that weren’t properly vetted. Over time, hardware suppliers have started to scrutinize their supply chains better and have reduced this risk.

And the US government have been lobbying for the industry to use a security chip with a backdoor or to supply back doors to smartphone encryption capabilities. Luckily, so far, none of these have been implemented by industry.

What Russia has shown us is that this particular hack is not limited to the hardware sphere. Software supply chain risk can’t be ignored anymore.

This means that any software application supplier will need to secure their supply chain or bring it all in house. Which may mean that costs for these packages will go up. It’s possible that using a pure open source supply chain may reduce this risk as well. At least that’s the promise of open source.

We said 2020 was an interesting year and it’s going out with a bang.

Matt Leib (@MBLeib), one of our co-hosts, has been blogging in the storage space for over 10 years, with work experience both on the engineering and presales/product marketing.. His blog is at Virtually Tied to My Desktop and he’s on LinkedIN.

Keith Townsend (@CTOAdvisor) is a IT thought leader who has written articles for many industry publications, interviewed many industry heavyweights, worked with Silicon Valley startups, and engineered cloud infrastructure for large government organizations. Keith is the co-founder of The CTO Advisor, blogs at Virtualized Geek, and can be found on LinkedIN.

109: GreyBeards talk SmartNICs & DPUs with Kevin Deierling, Head of Marketing at NVIDIA Networking

We decided to take a short break (of sorts) from storage to talk about something equally important to the enterprise, networking. At (virtual) VMworld a month or so ago, Pat made mention of developing support for SmartNIC-DPUs and even porting vSphere to run on top of a DPU. So we thought it best to go to the source of this technology and talk with Kevin Deierling (TechSeerKD), Head of Marketing at NVIDIA Networking who are the ones supplying these SmartNICs to VMware and others in the industry.

Kevin is always a pleasure to talk with and comes with a wealth of expertise and understanding of the technology underlying data centers today. The GreyBeards found our discussion to be very educational on what a SmartNIC or DPU can do and why VMware and others would be driving to rapidly adopt the technology. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

NVIDIA’s recent acquisition of Mellanox brought them Mellanox’s NIC, switch and router technology. And while Mellanox, and now NVIDIA have some pretty impressive switches and routers, what interested the GreyBeards was their SmartNIC technology.

Essentially, SmartNICS provide acceleration and offload of data handling needs required to move data around an enterprise network. These offload services include at a minimum, encryption/decryption, packet pacing (delivering gadzillion video streams at the right speed to insure proper playback by all), compression, firewalls, NVMeoF/RoCE, TCP/IP, GPU direct storage (GDS) transfers, VLAN micro-segmentation, scaling, and anything else that requires real time processing to perform at line speeds.

For those who haven’t heard of it, GDS transfers data from storage directly into GPU memory and from GPU memory directly to storage without any CPU cycles or server memory involvement, other than to set up the transfer. This extends NVMeoF RDMA tech to/from storage and server memory, to GPUs. That is, GDS offers a RDMA like path between storage and GPU memory. GPU to/from server memory direct interface already exists over the PCIe bus.

But even with all the offloads and accelerators above, they can also offer an additional a secure enclave outside the TPM in the CPU, to better isolate security sensitive functionality for a data center. (See DPU below).

Kevin mentioned multiple times that the new unit of computation is no longer a server but rather is now a data center. When you have public cloud, private cloud and other systems that all serve up virtual CPUs, NICs, GPUs and storage, what’s really being supplied to a user is a virtual data center. Cloud providers can carve up their hardware and serve it to you any way you want or need it. Virtual data centers can provide a multitude of VMs and any infrastructure that customers need to use to run their workloads.

Kevin mentioned by using SmartNics, IT or cloud providers can return 30% of the processor cycles (that were being spent doing networking work on CPUs) back to workloads that run on CPUs. Any data center can effectively obtain 30% more CPU cycles and increased networking speed and performance just by deploying SmartNICs throughout all the servers in their environment.

SmartNICs are an outgrowth of Mellanox technology embedded in their HPC InfiniBAND and high end Ethernet switches/routers. Mellanox had been well known for their support of NVMeoF/RoCE to supply high IOPs/low-latency IO activity for NVMe storage over Ethernet and before that their InfiniBAND RDMA technologies.

As Mellanox came out with their 2nd Gen SmartNIC they began to call their solution a “DPU” (data processing unit), which they see forming part of a “holy trinity” underpinning the new data center which has CPUs, GPUs and now DPUs. But a DPU is more than just a SmartNIC.

All NVIDIA SmartNICs and DPUs are based on Mellanox’s BlueField cards and chip technology. Their DPU uses BlueField2 (gen 2 technology) chips, which has a multi-core ARM engine inside of it and memory which can be used to perform computational processing in addition to the onboard offload/acceleration capabilities.

Besides adding VMware support for SmartNICs, PatG also mentioned that they were porting vSphere (ESX) to run on top of NVIDIA Networking DPUs. This would move the core VMware’s hypervisor functionality from running on CPUs, to running on DPUs. This of course would free up most if not all VMware Hypervisor CPU cycles for use by customer workloads.

During our discussion with Kevin, we talked a lot about the coming of AI-ML-DL workloads, which will require ever more bandwidth, ever lower latencies and ever more compute power. NVIDIA was a significant early enabler of the AI-ML-DL with their CUDA API that allowed a GPU to be used to perform DL network training and inferencing. As such, CUDA became an industry wide phenomenon allowing industry wide GPUs to be used as DL compute engines.

NVIDIA plans to do the same with their SmartNICs and DPUs. NVIDIA Networking is releasing the DOCA (Data center On a Chip Architecture) SDK and API. DOCA provides the API to use the BlueField2 chips and cards which are the central techonology behind their DPU. They have also announced a roadmap to continue enhancing DOCA, as they have done with CUDA, over the foreseeable future, to add more bandwidth, speed and functionality to DPUs.

It turns out the real problem which forced Mellanox and now NVIDIA to create SmartNics was the need to support the extremely low latencies required for NVMeoF and GDS IO.

It wasn’t clear that the public cloud providers were using SmartNICS but Kevin said it’s been sort of a widely known secret that they have been using the tech. The public clouds (AWS, Azure, Alibaba) have been deploying SmartNICS in their environments for some time now. Always on the lookout for any technology that frees up compute resources to be deployed for cloud users, it appears that public cloud providers were early adopters of SmartNICS.

Kevin Deierling, Head of Marketing NVIDIA Networking

Kevin is an entrepreneur, innovator, and technology executive with a proven track record of creating profitable businesses in highly competitive markets.

Kevin has been a founder or senior executive at five startups that have achieved positive outcomes (3 IPOs, 2 acquisitions). Combining both technical and business expertise, he has variously served as the chief officer of technology, architecture, and marketing of these companies where he led the development of strategy and products across a broad range of disciplines including: networking, security, cloud, Big Data, machine learning, virtualization, storage, smart energy, bio-sensors, and DNA sequencing.


Kevin has over 25 patents in the fields of networking, wireless, security, error correction, video compression, smart energy, bio-electronics, and DNA sequencing technologies.

When not driving new technology, he finds time for fly-fishing, cycling, bee keeping, & organic farming.

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108: GreyBeards talk DNA storage with David Turek, CTO, Catalog DNA

The Greybeards get off the beaten (enterprise) path this month, to see what lies ahead with a discussion on DNA storage. David Turek, CTO, Catalog DNA (@CatalogDNA) is a long time IBMer that had been focused on HPC systems at IBM but left and went to Catalog DNA to pursue the commercialization of DNA storage, an “emerging” technology. CatalogDNA is a company out of Boston that had recently closed a round of funding and are focused on bringing DNA storage out into the world of IT.

David was a pleasure to talk and has lot’s of knowledge on HPC and enterprise data center solutions. He also has a good grasp of what it will take to bring DNA storage to market. Keith has had some prior experience with DNA technologies in BioPharma so could talk in more detail about the technology and its ecosystem. [We’re trying out a new format, let us know what you think; The Eds.]

Ray has written about DNA storage in his RayOnStorage Blog, most recently in April of this year and May of last year. It’s been an ongoing blog topic of his for almost a decade now. When Ray was interviewed about the technology he thought it interesting but had serious obstacles with read and write latencies and throughput as well as the size of the storage device.

Well CatalogDNA seems to have got a good handle on write throughput and are seriously working on the rest.

However, DNA storage’- volumetric density was always of exceptional. Early on in the podcast, David mentioned that DNA storage was 6 orders of magnitude (1 million times) more dense in bytes/mm**3 than magnetic tape today. An LTO8 tape device stores 12TB (uncompressed) in a tape cartridge, 14.2 in**3 (230.3 cm**3) or roughly 845GB/in**3 (52GB/cm**3). One million times this, would be 12EB in the same volume.

The challenge with LTO8, disk or SSD storage today is at some point you have to move the data from one device to a more modern device. This could be every 3-5 years (for disk or SSD) or 25-30 years for tape. In either case, at some point IT would need to incur the cost and time to move the data. Not much of a problem for 100TB or so but when you start talking PB or EB of data, it can be a never ending task.

DNA storage

David mentioned Catalog uses “synthetic DNA” in their storage. This means the DNA it uses is designed to be incompatible with natural DNA such that it wouldn’t work in a cell. It has stops or other biological mechanisms to inhibit it’s use in nature. Yes it uses the same sugars, backbones, and other chemistry of biologically active DNA, but it has been specifically modified to inhibit its use by normal cellular machinery. 

DNA storage has a number of unique capabilities :

  • It can be made to last forever, by being dried out (dessicated) and encased in a crystal and takes 0 power/energy to be stored for eons.
  • It can be cheaply and easily replicated, almost an infinite number of times, for only the cost of chemical feedstock, chemical interactions and energy. Yes, this may take time but the process scales up nicely. One could make 2 copies in first cycle, 4 in the 2nd, 8 in the 3rd, etc and by doing this it would only take 20 cycles to create a million copies. If each cycle takes 10 minutes, in 3:20, you could have a million copies of 1EB of data.
  • It can be easily searched for target information. This involves fabricating a DNA search molecule and inserting it into the storage solution. Once there it would match up with the DNA segment that held your key. And of course, the search molecule and the data could be replicated to speed up any search process.
  • We already mentioned the extreme density advantage above.

Speed of DNA storage access

David said they can already write Catalog DNA storage in MB/sec.

The process they use to write is like a conveyer belt which starts off with a polyethylene sheet (web actually). Somewhere, the digital data comes in, is chunked and transformed into DNA strand (25-50 base pairs) molecules or dots. The polyethylene sheet rolls into a machine that uses multiple 3D print heads to deposit dots (the DNA strand data chunks) at web points. This machine/process deposits 100K or more of these dots onto the web. The sheet then moves to the next stage where the DNA molecules are scraped off and drained into a solution. Then a wet process occurs which uses chemistry to make the DNA more readable and enables the separate DNA molecules to connect into a data strand. Then this data strand goes into another process where it gets reduced in volume and so that it is more stable.

If needed, one can add another step that dries out or desiccates the data strand into even a smaller volume which can then be embedded into a crystalline structure which could last for centuries.

David compared the DNA molecules (data chunks) to Legos, only they are the same pieces in a million different colors Each piece represents some segment of data bits/bytes. Using chemistry and proprietary IP each separate DNA molecule self organizes (connects) into a data strand, representing the information you want to store.

Reading DNA involves, off the shelf, DNA sequencers. The one Catalog currently uses is the Oxford NanoPore device, but there are others. David didn’t say how fast they could read DNA data. But current DNA reading devices destroy the data. So making replicas of the data would be required to read it.

David said their current write device is L shaped with one leg about 14’ (4.3m) long and the other about 12’ (3.7m) long with each leg being about 3’ (0.9m) wide.

Searching EB of data in minutes?!

DNA strands can be searched (matched) using a search molecule and inserting this into the storage solution (that holds the data strands). Such a molecule will find a place in the data that has a matching (DNA) data element and I believe attach itself to the data strand.

For example, lets say you had recorded all of a country’s emails for a month or so and you wanted to search them for the words, “bomb”, “terrorist”, “kill”, etc. One could create a set of search molecules, replicate them any number of times (depending on how quickly you wanted to search the data and how many matches you expected), and insert them into a data pool with multiple data strands that stored the email traffic.

After some time, you’d come back and your search would be done. You’d need to then extract the search hits, and read out the portion of the data strands (emails) that matched. I’m guessing extraction would involve some sort of (wet) chemical process or filtration.

State of Catalog DNA storage

David mentioned that as a publicity stunt they wrote the whole Wikipedia onto Catalog DNA storage. The whole Wikipedia fit into a cylinder about the height of a big knuckle on your hand and in a width smaller than a finger. The size of the whole Wikipedia, with complete edit history is 10TB uncompressed and if they stored all the edit versions plus its media such as images, videos, audio and other graphics, that would add another 23TB (as of end of 2014), so ~33TB uncompressed.

David believes in 18 months they could have a WORM (write once, read many times) data storage solution that could be deployed in customer data centers which would supply immense data repositories in relatively small solution containers.

CatalogDNA is currently in a number of PoCs with major corporations (not labs or universities) to show how DNA storage technology can be used to solve problems.

David believes that at some point they will be able to make compute engines entirely of DNA. At that point, one could have a combined compute and storage (HCI-like) DNA server using the same technology in a solution. And as mentioned previously, one could replicate from one DNA server & storage to a million DNA servers & storage in just 20 cycles. How’s that for scale out.


David Turek, CTO Catalog DNA

Dave Turek is Catalog’s Chief Technology Officer. He comes to Catalog from IBM where he held numerous executive positions in High Performance Computing and emerging technologies.

He was the development executive for the IBM SP program which produced the first commercially successful massively parallel system; he started IBM’s Linux Cluster business; launched an early offering in Cloud computing called Deep Computing Capacity on Demand; produced the Roadrunner system, the world’s first petascale computer; and was responsible for IBM’s exascale strategy which led to the deployment of the Summit and Sierra systems at Oak Ridge and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories respectively.

David has been invited to testify to Congress on numerous occasions regarding the future of computing in the US and has helped establish technical collaborations with universities, businesses, and government agencies around the world.

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106: Greybeards talk Intel’s new HPC file system with Kelsey Prantis, Senior Software Eng. Manager, Intel

We had talked with Intel at Storage Field Day 20 (SFD20), about a month ago. At the virtual event, Intel’s focus was on their Optane PMEM (persistent memory) technology. Kelsey Prantis (@kelseyprantis), Senior Software Engineering Manager, Intel was on the show and gave an introduction into Intel’s DAOS (Distributed Architecture Object Storage, DAOS.io) a new HPC (high performance computing, super computers) file system they developed from scratch to use leading edge, Intel technologies, and Optane PMEM was one of them.

Kelsey has worked on LUSTRE and other HPC file systems for a long time now and came into the company from the acquisition of Whamcloud. Currently, she manages the development team working on DAOS. DAOS is a new HPC object storage file system which is completely open source (available on GitHub).

DAOS was designed from the start to take advantage of NVMe SSDs and Optane PMEM. With PMEM, current servers can support up to 20TB of memory. Besides the large memory sizes, Optane PMEM also offers non-volatile memory and byte addressability (just like DRAM). These two characteristics opens up new functionality that allows DAOS to move beyond legacy, block oriented, storage architectures that have been the only storage solution for HPC (and the enterprise) for decades now.

What’s different about DAOS

DAOS uses PMEM for all metadata and for storing small files. HPC IO has always focused on heavy bandwidth (IO using large blocks) oriented but lately newer applications have emerged, such as AI/ML/DL, data analytics and others, that use smaller files/blocks. Indeed, most new HPC clusters and supercomputers are deploying almost as many GPUs as CPUs in their configurations to support AI activities.

The problem is that these newer applications typically consume much smaller files. Matt mentioned one HPC client he worked with was processing small batches of seismic data, to predict, in real time, earthquakes that were happening around the world.

By using PMEM for metadata and small files, DAOS can be much more responsive to file requests (open, close, delete, status) as well as provide higher performing IO for small files. All this leads to a much better performing system for the new HPC workloads as well as great sustainable performance for the more traditional large file workloads.

DAOS storage

DAOS provides a cluster storage system that can be configured with from 1 (no data protection), but more normally 3 nodes (with data protection) at a minimum to 512 nodes (lab tested). Data protection in DAOS is currently based on mirroring data and can use from 0 to the number of nodes in a cluster as data mirrors.

DAOS system nodes are homogeneous. That is they all come with the same amount of PMEM and NVMe SSDs. Note, DAOS doesn’t support disk drives. Kelsey mentioned DAOS node hardware can be tailored to suit any particular application environment. But they typically require an average of 6% of overall DAOS system capacity in PMEM for metadata and small file activity.

DAOS current supports their own API, POSIX, HDFS5, MPIIO and Apache Spark storage protocols. Kelsey mentioned that standard POSIX uses a pessimistic conflict resolution mode which leads to performance bottlenecks during parallel access. In contrast, DAOS’s versos of POSIX uses optimistic conflict resolution, which means DAOS starts writes assuming there’s no conflict, but if one occurs it handles the conflict in real time. Of course with all the metadata byte addressable and in PMEM this doesn’t take up a lot of (IO) time.

As mentioned earlier, DAOS data protection uses mirror-replicas. However, unlike most other major file systems, DAOS mirroring can be done at the object level. DAOS internally is an object store. Data organization on DAOS starts at the pool level, underneath that is data containers, and then under that are objects. Any object in DAOS can have its own mirroring configuration. DAOS is working towards supporting Erasure Coding as another form of data protection for a future release.

DAOS performance

There’s a new storage benchmark that was developed specifically for HPC, called the IO500. The IO500 benchmark simulates a number of different HPC workloads, measures performance for each of them, and computes an (aggregate) performance score to rank HPC storage systems.

IO500 ranks system performance using two lists: one is for any sized configuration that typically range from 50 to 1000s of nodes and their other list limits the configuration to 10 nodes. The first performance ranking can sometimes be gamed by throwing more hardware into a cluster. The 10 node rankings are much harder to game this way and from our perspective, show a fairer comparison of system performance.

As presented (virtually) at ISC 2020, DAOS took the top spot on the IO500 any size configuration list and performed better than 2X the next best solution. And on the IO500 10 node list, Intel’s DAOS configuration, Texas Advanced Computing (TAC) DAOS configuration, and Argonne Nat Labs DAOS configuration took the top 3 spots and had 3X better performance than the next best, non-DAOS storage system.

The Argonne National Labs has already stated that they will be using DAOS in their new HPC system to be deployed in the near future. Early specifications for storage at the new Argonne Lab required support for 230PB of data and 25TB/sec of bandwidth.

The podcast ran ~43 minutes. Kelsey was great to talk with and very knowledgeable about HPC systems and HPC IO in particular. Matt has worked at Argonne in the past so understood these systems better than I. Sadly, we lost Matt’s end of the conversation about 1/2 way into the recording. Both Matt and I thought that DAOS represents the birth of a new generation of HPC storage. Listen to the podcast to learn more.


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Kelsey Prantis, Senior Software Engineering Manager, Intel

 Kelsey Prantis heads the Extreme Storage Architecture and Development division at Intel Corporation. She leads the development of Distributed Asynchronous Object Storage (DAOS), an open-source, low-latency and high IOPS object store designed from the ground up for massively distributed Non-Volatile Memory (NVM).

She joined Intel in 2012 with the acquisition of Whamcloud, where she led the development of the Intel Manager for Lustre* product.

Prior to Whamcloud, she was a software developer at personal genomics and biotechnology company 23andMe.

Prantis holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Rochester Institute of Technology

105: Greybeards talk new datacenter architecture with Pradeep Sindhu, CEO & Co-founder, Fungible

Neither Ray nor Keith has met Pradeep before, but Ray was very interested in Fungible’s technology. Turns out Pradeep Sindhu, CEO and Co-founder, Fungible has had a long and varied career in the industry starting at Xerox Parc, then co-founding and becoming chief scientist at Juniper, and now reachitecting the data center with Fungible. Pradeep mentioned this at the end of the podcast, he has always been drawn to hard problems with the potential to open up immense possibilities. What he did at Juniper and what he is planning to accomplish with Fungible both fit that pattern.

Today, in a typical data center, we have servers, networking and storage equipment all connected through a fabric. But from Pradeep’s perspective none of it works well in support of data centric computing. What we have today is operating like changing a screw with a pliers. But if there existed some hardware that can execute data centric computing (or to follow the metaphor, a screw driver) well, the data center would operate much more efficiently, with more performance and better resource use.

Fungible was founded in 2015 with the idea that the industry is moving to a data centric computing paradigm and today’s data center is ill equipped to take IT there.

What is data centric computing

The IT industry has been moving to a new type of computing, that is focused on short bursts of CPU activity with relatively small packets of data coming off the network (from sensors/outside world, from storage, from other servers, etc.). Those workloads are often transient, short lived, are intended to be performed quickly and may not leave any persistent state.

We can see this in the emergence of micro-services architectures with Docker and k8s containers. But you don’t have to be using containers. It’s also present in machine learning where the update cycle of the neural network (with accelerators) takes lot’s of small bursts of computation while it consumes lots of small data items (pictures, text documents, ticker/status logs, etc. ).

Furthermore, the move to commodity hardware has taken the same x86/ARM core CPUs and used them to execute these small bursts of computation. And for some of these operations that may still make sense. But when the data center uses these same cores to perform data path packet processing. It bogs down the network. It consumes a lot of power, adds overhead (higher latencies), leads to packet loss, injects network jitter and a host of other problems.

So, in order to get the data packets to where they need to be with out those problems, networking endpoints need to be changed out to something designed to support data path critical workloads. Pradeep calls these data path critical work items “run to complete” code.

The critical question is what proportion of IT workloads are “data centric’ vs. not. While it might not be that high today, Pradeep and Fungible are betting that it’s going to be getting much higher over time. If we look at hyper-scalars today they are the forefront of this computing paradigm change and much of their workloads are moving to containerized execution.

The DPU enables data centric computing

Fungible plans to add a DPU that supports a power efficient, “run-to-complete” programming engine to the data center. By using DPUs, they can create a true fabric (using IPoE) that’s low latency, low jitter, lossless and provides full cross-sectional bandwidth.

The problem as Pradeep sees it is that the X86 and ARM cores are just not made to execute run-to-comple workloads well and this is required to provide a true fabric. Whereas Fungible has designed the DPU from the start to execute run-to-complete work.

Pradeep sees the data center of tomorrow utilizing JBoF(lash) & JBoD(isk) boxes with DPU(s) in front of them providing storage server services (block, file and object), JBoGP(Us) or JBoFP(GAs) boxes with DPU(s) in front of them providing accelerator/graphics server services, and compute boxes with DPU(s) and x86/ARM cores with DRAM-Optane PMEM in them providing CPU server and client services. All the DPUs together in a cluster would in total provide true fabric services.

Essentially, the DPUs would take over all data path operations and the storage, GPUS, CPUs would handle everything else. In effect, segregating data path and control path services in the data center.

Greenfield, brownfield or both

Keith and I both assumed this would be great for a green field deployments. But,. Pradeep said it’s designed to be incrementally added to servers, JBoFs, JBoDs, JBoGs/JBoFPs and start providing data path services within current data center fabric environments. Even as the rest of the data center remain unchanged.

At some point we talked about the programming model of the DPU. The DPU offers a bring your own Linux OS that can be programmed in any language you choose. But the critical, data-path functionalityi is coded in “C” to run as fast and as efficiently as possible.

Fungible has designed this hardware themselves. We didn’t get to talk about how they plan to market their product to the data center.

Pradeep also said to stay-tuned, and they were just about to announce their first product offering based on the DPU.

The podcast ran ~38 minutes. Pradeep, given his education and experience, is a very knowledgeable individual about the data center environment today. He’s certainly one of the most interesting IT tecnologist we have talked with in a while on the GreyBeards podcast. To say what Fungible is trying to do is aggressive and bold is an understatement. But Pradeep feels this is the only way forward to liberate the data center from its data path chains today. Both Keith and I thought we needed at least another hour or so to truly understand what they are doing and where they are going with it. Listen to the podcast to learn more.

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Pradeep Sindhu, CEO and Co-Founder, Fungible

Pradeep Sindhu is CEO and Co-Founder of Fungible, a Santa Clara-based startup providing at-scale, next-generation solutions for the data center, cloud and IT industries. He has been at the forefront of the network and processing industry for over three decades.

As the co-founder and CTO of Juniper Networks, he played a central role in the architecture, design and development of Juniper’s M40 router – the M series was the first of its kind, offering the industry true decoupling of the control plane and the forwarding plane.

Prior to Juniper, he was a Principal Scientist and Distinguished Engineer at the Computer Science Lab at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) pushing the envelope on what silicon could do for networking and processing.

He is passionate about new ways to support our growing data-centric world with the right combination of hardware and software to build the infrastructure our future needs.