What Is A Data Processing Unit (DPU) And Why Is NVIDIA Betting On It?
At the GPU Technology Conference 2020, Jensen Huang, NVIDIA’s CEO, unveiled a new family of processors branded as the BlueField-2 Data Processing Unit (DPU). The DPU is accessible to the developers via the software platform, the DOCA SDK. The DPU and DOCA SDK are comparable to NVIDIA’s powerful combination of GPU hardware and CUDA software.
Having dominated the AI accelerator market, NVIDIA is now aiming to expand it to the data center infrastructure acceleration and optimization.
Why is Jensen Huang bullish about the DPU market and how it matters to the enterprise data center? Here is an attempt to explain the evolution of DPU in simple terms.
The Aggregation and Disaggregation of Enterprise Infrastructure
During the 90s, the combination of Intel x86 CPU and OS software offered unmatched power to enterprises. The rise of client/server computing, followed by n-tier computing, paved the way for distributed computing. Enterprises ran databases, application servers and custom line of business software on a fleet of x86 servers.
During the early 2000s, VMware introduced ESX, a hypervisor that brought the ability to virtualize the x86 CPU. Enterprises could run multiple virtual machines on a single powerful server. CPU virtualization was the first step towards the aggregation of enterprise infrastructure.
The hypervisor made the hardware programmable. Developers could write code to define and provision a virtual machine without manual intervention. This programmability aspect of infrastructure became the foundation of the modern cloud computing paradigm.
Based on the success of ESX, VMware moved towards network and storage virtualization. Traditional infrastructure players such as Cisco and EMC have started to build virtualized network and storage services to compete with VMware. In 2012, VMware acquired Nicira, the software-defined networking startup, for $1.26 billion, which was branded as NSX. In March 2014, VMware announced vSAN, its