Mellanox Bluefield-2 IPU SmartNIC Bringing AWS-like Features to VMware

Mellanox Bluefield 2 IPU SmartNIC
Mellanox Bluefield 2 IPU SmartNIC

At VMworld 2019, Mellanox unveiled its newest SmartNIC. The Mellanox Bluefield-2 IPU being unveiled at VMworld may at first seem strange until one realizes what Mellanox is offering. We wanted to talk about the new NIC because Mellanox is bringing features that sound more like what AWS offers with Nitro than just a simple NIC.

Mellanox Bluefield-2 IPU SmartNIC

To understand what the Mellanox Bluefield-2 IPU SmartNIC is doing, one needs to first look at the what AWS Nitro offers:

AWS Nitro In Three Parts From Hot Chips 31
AWS Nitro In Three Parts From Hot Chips 31

The Mellanox Bluefield-2 IPU SmartNIC has a few key features that align well to the Nitro charter:

  • Networking – up to dual 100GbE or single 200GbE using ConnectX-6 Dx IP
  • Storage – accelerate and virtualize storage and handle including NVMeoF
  • Security – silicon root of trust and crypto acceleration
  • Virtualization – Eight onboard 64-bit Arm Cortex-A72 cores with 8GB or 16GB of memory and a 1GbE out of band management port

Here is where Bluefield-2 technology gets very exciting. With VMware ESXi 64-bit Arm Support Announced, it does not take a huge leap of faith to see VMware ESXi running one day on either this generation of Bluefield-2 or a future part. This can be the onramp to VMware and Mellanox selling an everyman’s AWS Nitro.

When you go beyond the immediate VMware and other cloud provider tie-in, there is something that may be more intriguing on the horizon. As we opined in NVIDIA to Acquire Mellanox a Potential Prelude to Servers, providing a virtualization platform with fabric and storage would be a game-changer for future NVIDIA designs.

Here is Mellanox’s video on the new SmartNIC:

Final Words

At its face, the Mellanox Bluefield-2 announcement at VMworld may have seemed like a simple new product. Instead, it was likely something much more than a press release and a card on the show floor. Over the past few years, VMworld has gone from a show with major new hardware launches to one where that rarely happens which makes the Bluefield-2 launch at VMworld seem different. We think that is for good reason as it may be the start of something much more. In a few years, we may look back on the Mellanox Bluefield-2 IPU SmartNIC launch as VMworld 2019 as a major one in the industry.


  1. I heard you like servers, so I put a server in your server so you can serve your server better?

    Seriously though… At which point will the “Central” part of the Central Processing Unit disappear and we’ll have offloaded all tasks to individual little systems like this?

    Plus, all those nice little sucker systems hanging off your server require updates and security patches, increase attack surface, cost, and management.


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