Data centre efficiency is a central cost factor in enterprise IT environments. So, in the face of rising energy costs and increasingly resource-intensive workloads, it is more important than ever for businesses to seek out greater optimisation. Traditionally, CPUs have been used for the majority of data centre workloads, including network related tasks. However, it is possible to unlock significant improvements in efficiency, performance and capabilities by offloading some of these workloads to dedicated hardware.
SmartNICs – also known as data processing units (DPUs) and infrastructure processing units (IPUs) – are a relatively new technology that enables organisations to free up CPU capacity by moving network functions to intelligent network interface cards (NICs). SmartNICs combine traditional NIC capabilities with advanced processing power and security controls to support highly complex and demanding networking tasks.
Utilising more efficient hardware and enabling the CPU to focus on other critical workloads can yield significant savings for enterprise data centres. According to a study by NVIDIA, organisations can reduce server power consumption by up to 30% by implementing a SmartNIC, with further savings in cooling, rack space, and upfront server costs.
SmartNICs have the potential to transform data centre efficiency, but as an emerging technology it can be challenging to make the most of them. To maximise the value of SmartNICs, enterprises need software and tooling that can both support the new features that SmartNICs offer, while also streamlining deployment and management.
This is where Ubuntu and the Canonical infrastructure stack come in. Canonical delivers tailored Ubuntu images that have been designed to run optimally on leading SmartNICs, alongside automation tools and specialised infrastructure platforms. Together, these solutions provide enterprises with a proven path to unlocking the full potential of SmartNIC hardware.
Ubuntu LTS powers enterprise-grade SmartNIC deployments
Even at this early stage in the evolution of SmartNICs, there is a lot of variation in the design and capabilities of solutions from different vendors, and each has their own software requirements. To support this diversity, Canonical creates optimised Ubuntu images for leading SmartNIC solutions. This unique level of tailored optimisation ensures that Ubuntu users can access the full power and features of their chosen smartNIC hardware straight out of the box.
Canonical’s SmartNIC certification program gives enterprises an easy way to identify whether a SmartNIC is compatible and validated with Ubuntu.
Ubuntu also enables organisations to extend enterprise-grade security to SmartNIC environments, and benefit from the operating system’s signature, predictable release cadence for rapid resolution of CVEs and guaranteed long-term support.
In fact, Ubuntu is so well suited to SmartNIC deployments that NVIDIA, one of the leading players in the SmartNIC space, uses Ubuntu as the basis for its BlueField DPU OS.
Automating lifecycle management and provisioning
Without dedicated tools, deploying and maintaining SmartNICs can be an immensely time-consuming manual task, and scaling at an enterprise level is difficult, if not impossible. To address these challenges, Canonical has updated its open source infrastructure automation solutions to provide support for SmartNICs.
MAAS enables automated provisioning and management throughout the entire SmartNIC lifecycle. MAAS can be used for SmartNIC discovery, deployment, updates, monitoring, and more, minimising the need for manual maintenance and significantly accelerating value.
Similarly, Canonical has made enhancements to the Juju orchestration engine to support automated SmartNIC scaling. By creating relationships between SmartNICs and other data centre components, Juju unlocks seamless scale-out to simplify even the largest and most complex deployments.
Optimised OpenStack, LXD and Kubernetes on SmartNICs
Modern enterprise workloads rely on cloud, container and virtualisation platforms, so it is critical that these technologies run smoothly on SmartNICs. Canonical delivers specially optimised distributions of leading open source solutions – OpenStack, LXD and Kubernetes – to ensure a highly performant and cost-effective experience with full SmartNIC feature support.
Whereas standard OpenStack distributions do not fully support all of the capabilities that SmartNICs offer, Canonical has added new functionality to Charmed OpenStack to maximise SmartNIC utilisation. For instance, Charmed OpenStack now enables users to offload Open vSwitch (OVS) and Open Virtual Network (OVN) capabilities onto SmartNICs, thereby empowering enterprises to transfer virtual networking away from host CPUs to free up CPU capacity.
LXD is a next-generation system container and virtual machine management solution created and led by Canonical. LXD enables virtual machines to run on both the host CPU and SmartNICs, which makes it easy for organisations to move virtualised workloads between environments. This can be especially valuable for enterprises transitioning from VMware solutions.
Kubernetes is invaluable for enterprise container orchestration, but typical distributions are too large to run effectively on SmartNICs that are inherently much smaller than traditional servers. Alongside Charmed Kubernetes, Canonical also offers MicroK8s as a uniquely lightweight, production-grade Kubernetes distribution that is ideal for SmartNICs. Additionally, Canonical has added network operator integration to Charmed Kubernetes to support accelerated networking on SmartNICs.
To learn how to use the new OVN acceleration capabilities, check out the demo.
SmartNICs are set to play a major role in shaping the modern enterprise data centre landscape, but making the most of this leading-edge hardware requires software that can support it. Canonical’s solutions provide the automation and feature support necessary to unlock the full value of SmartNICs at an enterprise scale. These solutions can reduce time-to-market for SmartNIC hardware and help drive new levels of data centre efficiency.
From June 13-15, join Canonical at the 2023 SmartNICs Summit in San Jose, California to connect with and learn from leading experts in the SmartNIC field.