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SmartNICs to make up 38% of network market by 2026

SmartNICs are expected to play a significant part in growing the Ethernet adapter market, which is forecast to reach $5 billion by 2026, according to research outfit Dell’Oro.

Server connectivity is also expected to continue to migrate to higher speeds, with ports of 100Gbps and above accounting for nearly half of the shipments, the market research told us.

Dell’Oro predicts a growing future for smartNICs in its latest report, the July 2022 Ethernet Adapter & Smart NIC 5-Year Forecast, predicting that these will account for a growing proportion of the Ethernet adapter market, especially for hyperscale users and high-performance applications.

Research director Baron Fung said he expects smartNICs to account for 38 percent of the total Ethernet controller and adapter market by 2026.

“SmartNICs will displace traditional NICs for most of the hyperscale cloud infrastructure for general-purpose and high-end workloads such as accelerated computing,” he said, while also noting opportunities in the Tier 2 Cloud, enterprise datacenters, and the telecoms market.

SmartNICs combine a network adapter with some processing intelligence, which may take the form of embedded CPUs in the case of Nvidia’s BlueField-2 products, while others use FPGAs or even ASIC technology.

In all three of the above cases, the idea is to offload some network processing tasks from the host system, especially with the growth of software-defined networking.

However, there are challenges to broader adoption, including the cost and complexity of implementing networks based around smartNICs, according to Dell’Oro.

“Vendors would first need to address cost-of-ownership and implementation challenges before we see broader smartNIC adoption outside of the hyperscale cloud market,” said Fung.

SmartNIC revenues are projected by Dell’Oro to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21 percent over five years, compared to 5 percent for traditional network adapters.

Meanwhile, server network connectivity is expected to transition to higher speeds as the cost of high-performance network ports comes down, so that 44 percent of the shipments in five years will be accounted for by 100Gbps connections or higher, Dell’Oro said.

In the US at least, 100Gbps and 200Gbps will be the dominant server port speeds over the next five years for the major hyperscale players – Amazon, Google, Meta, and Microsoft. ®


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