FPGAs for SmartNICs
In a recent blog, we talked about the term “SmartNIC”and what they can do. At Accolade Technology we use FPGAs (Field Programmable Gate Arrays) as the basis for our SmartNICs. FPGAs are semiconductor devices that are based around a matrix of configurable logic blocks connected via programmable interconnects. If you don’t understand what that means, don’t worry, you are not alone.
The name actually tells you all you need to know about FPGAs in terms of why they are valuable. “Field Programmable” is key because that means they can be updated or in other words the code or logic to the semiconductor can be modified at will; even after the product is shipped and out in the field or marketplace. The term “Gate Array” simply means that a programmer (FPGA engineers actually prefer to be called “Designers”) can design the gates or logic in the FPGA to perform whatever action they want. For example, in the case of Accolade ANIC adapters our designers program the device to parse packets in unique and helpful ways such as stripping off unnecessary headers or sorting packets into unique flows.
Today there are two major vendors for FPGAs: Xilinx and Intel (acquired Altera in 2015). Accolade has standardized on Xilinx from day one, but to an Accolade customer that doesn’t really matter as they just use the product and don’t need to worry about who produced the underlying device.