Alibaba Cloud is challenging AWS by announcing its own custom smartNIC, an accelerator expected to boost computing performance by up to 30% for AI and big data applications.
Alibaba Cloud unveiled a new, in-house designed accelerator to power local data centers in the cloud at its annual summit on Monday. Called the Cloud Infrastructure Processing Unit (CIPU), the system operates in several data centers managed by Alibaba Group’s cloud computing arm. CIPU enables Alibaba Cloud to improve the performance of networks, storage, security and computing power for customers by offloading virtualization functions from servers to dedicated hardware. It should offer a performance increase of up to 30%.
“The rapid increase in data volume and scale, as well as the increasing demand for lower latency, necessitates the creation of new technology infrastructure,” Jeff Zhang, president of Alibaba Cloud Intelligence, said in a virtual speech at today’s summit. year This release comes in response to growing cloud computing needs. According to IDC, the need for global data storage will grow from 33 zettabytes in 2018 to 175 zettabytes by 2025, which is equivalent to the amount of data stored on approximately 7 trillion laptops.
IDC estimates that by then, approximately 49% of data stored globally will reside in public cloud environments, making cloud data centers the new data warehouse for enterprises. These predictions have encouraged the world’s leading cloud vendors to begin designing chips typically dedicated to cloud use cases. SmartNICs, IPUs, DPUs (call them what you will) have been around in hyperscale and cloud data centers for several years. Alibaba’s Cloud Infrastructure Processing Unit (CIPU) appears to be an evolution of the company’s X-Dragon smartNIC.
So what is smartNIC? SmartNIC – for smart network interface card (NIC) – is a programmable accelerator that makes data center networks, security and storage efficient and flexible. SmartNICs offload server CPUs from the increasing number of tasks required to run modern distributed applications. They are made up of various interconnected, often configurable units that give them intelligence. These silicon blocks act as an expert board that makes decisions about how to process and route data packets as they pass through the data center.
Most of these units are highly specialized hardware units called accelerators, which perform communication tasks more efficiently than CPUs. Some are flexible units that users can program to meet their changing needs and keep pace with evolving network protocols. According to experts in the field, this combination of programmable accelerators and cores allows smartNICs to offer both performance and flexibility at exceptional value for money. Alibaba Cloud’s X-Dragon smartNIC was designed from the ground up to compete with AWS’s Nitro cards.
Alibaba claims its new accelerator, CIPU, can reduce network latency to just 5 microseconds, while improving computational performance in Spark AI and up to 30% in data-intensive big data deployments. However, the exact architecture supporting Alibaba’s CIPU is unclear, with the cards using a standard PCIe card form factor. In addition, the accelerator was launched shortly after 3.2 GHz from the new ARM Yitian 710 128-core server processor. Made by Alibaba, it benefits from 5nm etching and contains 60 billion transistors.
DPUs have become a hot topic in the past few years with an influx of products from Intel, Marvell, Fungible, Nvidia and AMD’s Xilinx and Pensando business units. All of these devices have a common goal: to accelerate I/O-intensive workloads common in networking, storage, and security applications, offloading them to domain-dedicated accelerators, freeing up network resources, and a processor to handle client workloads. Amazon is currently leading the development of smartNIC.
In this regard, Alibaba’s CIPUs are not new, but they differ in that they are developed in-house, rather than using third-party smartNICs, as Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and others do. According to Alibaba’s internal tests, the Yitian 710 is 20% more powerful and 50% more efficient than server processors currently on the market. The Chinese internet giant has announced that customers can deploy their workloads to chips on Alibaba’s g8m “Elastic Compute Service” (ECS) instances.
Together with the Apsara Cloud operating system, CIPU should become the heart of the next generation of cloud computing infrastructure. What’s more, Alibaba’s efforts closely mirror those of US rival Amazon, which was one of the first to make custom silicon a differentiator for the public cloud.
AWS offers a full range of instances using a combination of Graviton chips, Nitro smartNICs, and Trainium and Inferentia AI processors. Finally, Alibaba is not the only cloud service provider interested in the idea of private cloud infrastructure. Microsoft is actively deploying Ampere’s Arm-based Altra processors on Azure and is rumored to be working on its own custom processor.
Source: Alibaba Cloud
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