Who is Netronome?
Netronome is a hardware company specializing in network gear that offloads x86 CPUs in virtualized environments. They create their own silicon that they install onto their own packet processing engines that they deliver in the form of network interface cards.
What did they announce?
On January 26, 2016, Netronome announced the Agilio Server Networking Platform. Agilio is the branding for their server-offloading network interface. Netronome claims up to 5x greater throughput and up to an 80% reduction in CPU utilization with Agilio when compared to using Open vSwitch (OVS) on x86 alone.
By installing Agilio network interfaces (what Netronome terms “intelligent server adapters”) into server hardware, organizations should be able to reduce the number of servers they need to own and operate to handle their compute workloads. The big idea is that the server CPU is freed up to deal with applications, instead of handling the demands of network processing requested by OVS.
Netronome further demonstrated their role in the virtualized data center by pointing out…
- Network data speed requirements continue to increase, today at 10Gbps, tomorrow 25Gbps and 40Gbps becoming commonplace.
- Agilio is transparent to the compute infrastructure, requiring only a patch to OVS to facilitate offloading.
- Agilio is future-proof, featuring programmable flow-processing silicon they call NFP-4000, which can be upgraded to include new API-accessible features over time.
- Work to integrate with Juniper’s Contrail vRouter is well underway and should be in production later in 2016.
Pricing for low quantities of Agilio adapters (1,000 or so) is roughly $650 per unit.
Do you need this product?
If you are a data center operator bound by CPU due to intense networking throughput demands, you can take advantage of Netronome Agilio. The ROI calculation will likely be a simple one.
If your compute infrastructure CPUs are not especially impacted by network demands, then a more careful ROI study is in order. This is likely the case if you have 10GbE server interfaces, but rarely fill them.
The view from the hot aisle.
Netronome Agilio is a niche play for customers with specific compute requirements centered around OVS and, soon, Juniper Contrail. The majority of data center owners are likely to find that they just don’t have the problems that Netronome is solving, but those that do will be pleased that Netronome exists.
However, a careful analysis is in order for anyone looking into their own situation and considering Netronome. I believe that Netronome is presenting a best case scenario when claiming of 80% CPU reduction and 5x greater throughput. While I’m sure those claims go back to real-world data gathered at some point, I also know from talking with folks developing OVS and DPDK that numbers approaching 10Gbps are obtainable without especially exciting CPUs or a large number of cores being brought to bear to generate the throughput. OVS has come a long way, and development continues.
In addition, virtual switch operators are finding they have a plethora of choices when it comes to reducing the impact of virtual switching on their hosts’ x86 CPUs. DPDK development continues. Software solutions like 6Wind offer virtual network functions that are highly efficient. There is even work within the Linux kernel community to improve packet throughput.
Will software efficiency ever be as capable as hardware offload, such as offered by Netronome Agilio, in reducing CPU impact? No. But will increased efficiency over time result in virtual networking performance that is good enough? For many, yes. For these reasons, I believe Netronome is likely to remain a niche player in the cloud computing market, albeit one solving an important problem for specific customers.