Mellanox BlueField-2: A Win-Win of Increased I/O Performance and Enhanced Security

Mellanox BlueField

Improving the performance of compute workloads has always been a case of dealing with a changing landscape. The introduction of every new CPU, storage, or I/O technology boosted one aspect of performance but shifted the bottleneck to another.

Of late, most of the action has focused on increasing processing and storage performance. High-end systems now routinely use the latest generate CPUs, and many workloads are accelerated using GPUs. Storage solutions have benefited from lower-cost SSDs and innovative high-performance distributed file systems.

Now, there is a relatively new development for boosting I/O. Mellanox BlueField-2 is being integrated into high-performance computing (HPC) systems to eliminate common issues that degrade the overall performance of job execution.

The concept behind Mellanox BlueField-2 is that heavy compute and storage workloads consume valuable CPU cores for processing and steering network traffic. Such resources could be used for critical application processing. The way to reduce these demands is to handle these processing chores with an I/O Processing Unit (IPU), which brings programmable intelligence and accelerations to the network. 

Specifically, the Mellanox BlueField-2 IPU offloads critical network, security, and storage tasks from the CPU, making it ideal for addressing performance, networking efficiency, and cybersecurity concerns in a modern data- center.

Drilling Down into the Technology

Powered by industry-leading 50Gb/s PAM4 SerDes technology and PCIe Gen 4.0, BlueField-2 provides up to two ports of 25, 50, or 100Gb/s, or a single port of 200Gb/s Ethernet and InfiniBand connectivity. BlueField-2 combines the advanced capabilities of the ConnectX-6 Dx ASIC network adapter with an array of Arm processors and a high-speed memory controller, which enables enhanced and flexible software programmability.

BlueField-2 storage capabilities include NVMe-oF offload and NVMe emulation, which can be used for both the storage target and the storage client. The IPU is available as both a controller card that delivers the performance-boosting features in a PCIe standard form factor and as a software-programmable SmartNIC.

Beyond performance acceleration, one particularly useful benefit of using the SmartNic is that it can deliver isolation, hardware root-of-trust, and IPsec and TLS cryptography accelerations, allowing data center security at the end-point with best-in-class performance.

Mellanox SmartNICs and BlueField IPUs thus provide in-hardware security policy enforcement and connection tracking at full wire-speed with up to 100X performance gains compared to non-accelerated solutions – making them ideal to boost next-generation firewalls in bare-metal, virtualized, and containerized cloud environments.

Additionally, as an IPU, BlueField-2 provides in-hardware security capabilities, including agentless micro-segmentation, advanced malware detection, deep packet inspection, and application recognition, that far outperform software-only solutions.

These capabilities and features make the solution ideal for Department of Defense applications that require enhanced security extended to the edge and high performance.

Selecting the right technology solution

Integrating new technologies into HPC systems and optimizing those systems requires a great amount of time and special skill sets. Deploying such systems that deliver the requisite compute performance is a fine art. Employing such systems so that they also can support enhanced end-point security without impacting performance is even more challenging.  Many companies opt to team with a technology partner to benefit from real-world experience best practices and free their staff up for other jobs. PSSC Labs is a long-time partner with Mellanox, using its high-performance I/O solutions in the most demanding HPC applications.

PSSC Labs has a more than 30 years history of delivering systems that meet the most demanding workloads across industries, government, and academia. In particular, it has a long history working with federal agencies – from the Department of Defense and NASA to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Institutes of Health. Through this experience, PSSC Labs understand the ever-increasing need for improving compute, storage, and security capabilities to meet the wide range of use cases across diverse agency missions. PSSC Labs HPC and Big Data products are available on a variety of government contract vehicles. These widely accepted contracting vehicles expedite the purchasing process while satisfying government purchasing regulations.

To learn more about I/O acceleration, visit

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