What is a DPU?

Source: hpcwire.com

As computing has expanded beyond servers and PCs into large, centralized data centers powered by CPUs and GPUs, the DPU has arisen as the third major pillar of computing.

In this blog, you’ll learn more about what a DPU is and how it helps to enhance computing power in the modern technological landscape. 

What is a DPU, and why is it important?

Until recently, the CPU and the GPU were the two main components of computing.

The CPU is the “brain” of the computer that performs general computing tasks, whereas the GPU helps the CPU with more complex tasks such as graphics and artificial intelligence

As the amount of information available on a daily basis increases, however, computing has moved beyond servers and into large, centralized data centers, prompting the need for data to be moved within the center.

That’s where DPUs come into play. A DPU (data processing unit) is a new programmable processor that helps move data around these data centers. 

In essence, DPUs enable more efficient storage and free up the CPU to focus on processing.

The DPU offloads networking and communication tasks from the CPU. It combines processing cores with hardware accelerator blocks and a high-performance network interface to handle data-centric workloads.

This enables the DPU to make sure the right data goes to the right place in the right format quickly. 

What are the main functions of a DPU?

At a high level, DPUs have three primary functions: processing, networking, and acceleration. (They can also be incorporated into SmartNICs.)

A DPU is system on a chip (SoC) that combines three key elements: 

  1. An industry-standard, high-performance, software-programmable, multi-core CPU, typically based on the Arm architecture (a form of reduced instruction set computing, RISC) and tightly coupled with the other SoC components.
  2. A high-performance network interface capable of parsing, processing, and efficiently transferring data at line rate, or the speed of the network, to GPUs and CPUs.
  3. A rich set of flexible and programmable acceleration engines that offload and improve applications performance for AI and machine learning, security, telecommunications, and storage, among others.

What are the main features of a DPU? 

While there are many features of a DPU, the following eight seem to be the most common:

  • It has high-speed networking connectivity (usually multiple 100Gbps-200Gbps interfaces in this generation).
  • It has high-speed packet processing with specific acceleration and often programmable logic.
  • It has a CPU core complex.
  • It has memory controllers (commonly DDR4 but it can also be DDR5).
  • It has accelerators (often for crypto or storage offload).
  • It has PCIe 4.0 lanes. 
  • It has security and management features. 
  • It runs its own OS separate from a host system (commonly Linux). 

Final Thoughts

As the amount of data at our disposal increases, computing architectures will require assistance in helping manage, move, and analyze this information. 

With the help of DPUs, workloads are divided among the processors to enhance communication within data centers, AI, storage, and networking.

By freeing up the CPU, the speed at which data is processed becomes unmatched, avoiding overload and ensuring the delivery of actionable insights in real-time. 

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