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Pluribus taps the DPU for a distributed network fabric

Pluribus Networks' United Cloud Fabric shifts distributed network functions from a switch CPU to a DPU on the server. The technology unifies network management across switches and servers, the company said.

Pluribus Networks has announced Unified Cloud Fabric, an evolution of its Adaptive Cloud Fabric product. The latest technology improves network performance in the data center by moving some distributed network functions from the switch to a data processing unit in a server.

Unified Cloud Fabric, introduced today, is the latest step in Pluribus' long-term strategy for reducing the number of switches needed in networks for the data center, IoT devices and edge data centers. Enterprises could also use Pluribus' Unified Cloud Fabric for visibility across the distributed networks.

Pluribus has partnered with chipmaker Nvidia to use its Bluefield 2 DPU for the Unified Cloud Fabric, which the company plans to release in the second half of the year. Moving network functions to a Bluefield 2 DPU on a network interface card (NIC) would free up a switch's CPU to perform other network tasks more effectively. Along with network functions, the DPU would power zero-trust security.

The Unified Cloud Fabric's network functions that would run on the DPU include Layer 2 and 3 underlay network connectivity, VXLAN tunnel encapsulation, BGP EVPN and multi-tenant segmentation. The security services include microsegmentation with distributed firewall. IPsec encryption will come eventually, Pluribus said.

Pluribus's existing Netvisor ONE OS would run the network functions. The company has built Unified Cloud Fabric using open networking standards to run on brand-agnostic white box switches and servers.

"[Pluribus is] trying to do it in the most cost-effective way by enabling organizations to have a white box, which is more vendor[-agnostic]," said Bob Laliberte, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.

Unified Cloud Fabric will run better on servers with a Bluefield 2 DPU. However, it can also work in a switching fabric with legacy servers without DPUs, said Jay Gill, senior marketing director at Pluribus.

NVIDIA Bluefield 2 DPU for Pluribus Networks
NVIDIA Bluefield 2 DPU for Pluribus Networks

"There are three different approaches you can take: the legacy appliance approach, the software-based approach or the smart NIC approach," Laliberte said. The DPU approach "seems to be the Goldilocks of them."

Unified Cloud Fabric's security services will include microsegmentation distributed down to the server level, distributed stateful firewalls and a zero-trust architecture. Companies can apply the services across the private cloud-based portions of the network in a uniform way to limit the blast radius of an attack that does make it into the network, Pluribus said.

Pluribus sees the latest release, which replaces its Adaptive Cloud Fabric, as the first step in implementing its unified cloud networking vision. The next step will add support for edge data centers and parts of the network in public clouds.

Pluribus isn't the only vendor working on distributing network services to DPUs. Pensando and Aruba offer a distributed services switch that uses dedicated ASICs to offload security functions and build a unified fabric across multiple locations. VMWare's Project Monterey is a NIC-based product to accelerate networking and computing. F5 announced a Distributed Cloud Services product last month.

"Distributing services to be as close as possible to the applications is gaining a lot of momentum and a lot of traction in this space," Laliberte said.

Enterprise Strategy Group is a division of TechTarget.

Madelaine Millar is a news writer covering network technology at TechTarget. She has previously written about science and technology for MIT's Lincoln Laboratory and the Khoury College of Computer Science, as well as covering community news for Boston Globe Media.

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