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Intel IPU, the architecture for data centers and the cloud

The concept of NoC, Network on a Chip, has been around for years as the most viable option for the creation of future integrated systems. Whether in monolithic form and composed of several chips. All this thanks to the appearance of intelligent network controllers or SmartNICs. Of which we know NVIDIA’s commitment to the purchase of Mellanox and that of AMD that will come from the recent acquisition of Xilinx. But what about in the case of Intel? Your bet is your Infrastructure Processing Unit or IPU.

IPU, Intel’s SmartNIC

During the Six Five Summit, Intel has presented its own SmartNIC, which it has dubbed the Infrastructure Processing unit, shortened as IPU. These types of units are very high-power network controllers that are placed in the central part of a chip or a system to manage the sending of data between the different components in it.

How it works? As in a local network where we have a central router managing all communications, a SmartNIC, such as Intel’s Infrastructure Unit, is in charge of managing the internal data communication in the system, but it goes further, since it allows to accelerate the data movements within the system. Therefore, these types of units can move data faster and more efficiently than the different processors in the system by themselves.

In the words of Guido Appenzeller, CTO of Intel’s Data Platform Group.

“IPUs are a new category of technologies and one of the strategic pillars of our cloud strategy. It expands on our SmartNIC capabilities and is designed to address the complexity and inefficiencies of modern data centers. At Intel, we are dedicated to creating solutions and innovating alongside our customers and partners.

SmartNICs are key not only to move data faster, but in the remote computing market they are essential to provide what we call quality of service. Besides that they move data in a more energy efficient way than another processor.

The IPU as a hub for future Intel designs

Intel IPU

Since the Intel IPU is a SmartNIC this is going to be placed in the center of your future systems and processors. In the second case where the Northbridge is located, so it will replace the classic passive and mesh connection infrastructure of the SoCs. Something that we will not see only in the case of Intel CPUs, but of the entire industry in general. But SmartNICs like Intel IPUs can also be placed centrally between multiple processors.

What does the Infrastructure Processing Unit contribute? Well, apart from freeing the CPU from data movement tasks, in the specific case of this recently introduced Intel unit it also does so with other functions, most of them designed for the data center market in charge of providing service. through the cloud.

  • Accelerate infrastructure functions, including virtualization of storage devices, network, and security. For this, the IPU works in conjunction with a series of protocol accelerators.
  • It frees CPU cores by taking care of network virtualization functions, which was done at the software level running on the CPU. In the IPU it is done by hardware, in a way that is transparent to the developer and the operating system.
  • It allows you to flexibly adjust the workloads on the processor according to the needs of each moment.
  • Allows cloud service providers to customize their infrastructure

The key to Intel’s Infrastructure Processing Unit is the use of an embedded FPGA, or eFPGA, a technology it acquired years ago with the purchase of Altera. SmartNICs being one of the hardware pieces where this type of unit is being used the most. Its usefulness at the moment is for data centers

Making cloud computing easier

Although SmartNICs like the Intel IPU are part of the future in the case of the PC, if we talk about servers then we find a very different story. Since Intel has been collaborating with several cloud service providers for some time, including Microsoft and its cloud computing platform Azure. Who have been using Intel FPGAs for years to build their server hardware in the cloud.

The Infrastructure Processing Unit is a dedicated ASIC with an embedded FPGA which is combined on the same chip with a series of accelerators. Which they plan to deploy on several of the servers of the most important cloud service providers on the planet. Where the combination of the capabilities of an FPGA such as SmartNIC together with the integrated accelerators make it a solution that not only takes care of freeing the CPU from the complex data movements that occur in a data center, but also provides a series of key capabilities, which until now required additional power from the processors in the server.

Knowing how to handle the movement of data is crucial to provide the best possible cloud service. That is why the platforms have been optimized for the use of SmartNICs, where this new Intel unit hardware accelerates certain tasks to improve customer service and automates certain functions that previously depended on the capabilities of the operating systems and processors in those that were executed. And we cannot forget that the direction is clear, everything is on the way to becoming a data center, even the PC we have at home.