Mellanox Technologies’ Innova-2 network adapter embeds field-programmable gate array (FPGA) technology into the card — a useful feature for cloud computing and network functions virtualization (NFV).

FPGAs boost speed and efficiency by offloading central processing unit-intensive applications to hardware.

This makes the new adapters, which combine Mellanox’s ConnectX-5 cards with the Xilinx UltraScale FPGA accelerator, suited for a wide variety of data center deployments including cloud, security, big data, deep learning, and NFV, according to Mellanox and IBM.

“We are happy to continue our deep collaboration efforts with Mellanox and to deliver optimized compute platforms to our mutual customers,” said Brad McCredie, VP of cognitive systems development at IBM in a statement. “Innova-2 will enable us to maximize the performance of our cloud, deep learning and other platforms by utilizing Mellanox acceleration engines and the ability to connect to our industry leading OpenCAPI CPU interfaces.”

OpenCAPI is a new bus standard backed by IBM, Dell EMC, Google, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Mellanox, Xilinx, and others. It provides an open, high-speed pathway for different types of technology – advanced memory, accelerators, networking, and storage – to more tightly integrate their functions within servers.

“OpenCAPI is a really cool thing, IBM’s really excited about it, and they are going to be making a big push about OpenCAPI,” said Bob Doud, senior director of marketing at Mellanox. “So we’ll have a card that is ready to plug in and leverage that.

The new cards also support PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) Gen4, a competing super-fast bus standard.

What this all means for Innova-2 users is low latency and high bandwidth.

Security is another key application, Doud said.  “The value we are bringing is in offloading things that one might otherwise do in software, things like encryption and decryption,” he explained. “Security is a big area of traction we’ve seen with offloading thing like IPsec. Also firewall functionality can be offloaded.”

IPsec, or Internet Protocol Security, is a network protocol suite that authenticates and encrypts packets of data sent over a network.

Innova-2 comes in multiple configurations. Customers can program the card for their specific applications, or it comes pre-programmed for security applications with encryption acceleration such as IPsec. For security applications, Innova-2 delivers six-times higher performance, Mellanox claims.

For cloud infrastructures, the embedded FPGA enables software-defined networking (SDN) and virtualized acceleration and offloads, Doud said. “NFV and to some extent SDN in its purest form is: you can do everything on a server. We kind of agree, but the server might have to be enhanced with the right adapter. You’re going to get commodity results without the right configuration.”

The dual-port Ethernet and InfiniBand network adapters support network speeds of 10, 25, 40, 50, and 100 gigabytes per second.

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