Competition Heats Up Over Fungible’s DPU Patch – Blocks and Files

Data processing unit startup Fungible faces increasing competition as its paths to growth are narrowed and increasingly hotly contested.

The company was founded in 2015 to develop and build data processing unit (DPU) chips, which would offload intrasystem storage, networking, and security processing in large-scale data centers from processors. x86 server. DPU chips can process instructions for these tasks more efficiently than general-purpose x86 processors. Offloading these east-west traffic and processing loads would allow x86 processors to process more applications and reduce costs in data centers with hundreds or thousands of such servers.

However, seven years later, and three years after its last funding round, it faces five strong competitors – AMD, Intel, Kalray, Marvell and Nvidia – and has yet to announce any major customers or OEM deals. .

Pradeep Sindhu and Bertrand Serlet

Founders Pradeep Sindhu and Bertrand Serlet both have illustrious technological experience. Sindhu was the founding CEO and president of Juniper Networks, then vice president, CTO and chief scientist, leaving the startup Fungible. Serlet served as senior vice president of software engineering at Apple, after which he founded consumer cloud storage company Upthere, which was acquired by Western Digital in 2017. Previously, he was senior vice president of software engineering at Apple, director of software engineering at Steve Jobs’ NeXT before that, and a former researcher at Xerox PARC where he rode Sindhu, another PARC alumnus.

Fungible raised $32.5 million in an A round in 2017, followed by $60 million in a B round the same year. Then he took in another $200 million in 2019.

It has developed two impressive DPU chips: the device front-end F1 for storage, analysis, using an AI server or security device, and the server-based S1 for bare-metal server virtualization, node security, storage initiator, local instance storage, and networking. virtualization (NFV).

FS1600 fungible storage node with cover removed
FS1600 fungible storage node with cover removed

Two F1s are used in Fungible’s scalable FS1600 disaggregated storage node with storage accesses via an NVMe over TCP interconnect.

Acquisition and composability

Fungible purchased the assets of composability software developer Cloudistics in September 2020. This became part of Fungible’s Data Center Composer, a centralized software suite that enables systemless composition, provisioning, management, and orchestration. operation of infrastructure at all scales.

At the time, Sindhu said, “We are doubling down on our vision to revolutionize data center infrastructure at all scales. We see progress towards this grand two-part vision. The first, which we have already achieved, is to develop a new class of microprocessor called Fungible DPU that promises to bring significant improvements in performance, economy, security and infrastructure reliability.

“The second, equally important part is to create software that dynamically composes DPU-powered servers disaggregated into one or more compute clusters, each designed to run a specific workload. With these two parts working together in synergy, we are leapfrogging to the holy grail of delivering high performance and high agility in data centers.

This Holy Grail has proven unattainable.

Eric Hayes, fungible
Eric Hayes

Eric Hayes was hired as CEO in July last year. The company has established a sales channel with a global program launch in April this year, and has partners in Asia.

Also in April, it launched Fungible GPU-Connect (FGC), a technology for linking pools of GPUs to servers via a PCIe virtual network running over Ethernet and managed by its DPU hardware. Service provider customers could compose (provision, allocate, deploy, and manage) GPU resources on servers on demand. No partnership with a GPU vendor was announced, and Nvidia had its own competing GPUDirect technology.

In August, Hayes-led Fungible laid off staff and scaled back its composable systems ambitions to focus on its storage cluster technology. He said the pivot was necessary because the development of the composability market was slow, partly due to the lack of standards.

At the time, he said, “Two years ago, Fungible decided to augment its DPU portfolio with next-level composability software solutions through organic acquisitions and development. Despite our best efforts, Fungible has been unable to achieve traction in the orchestration space from the success it has had with its DPU-based storage technology.

Rooted DPU reader competition

The main players in the DPU market are AWS, with its in-house Nitro technology; Intel with its IPU sold to hyperscalers; AMD, which bought DPU chip startup Pensando; Nvidia with its in-house BlueField technology, which it claims is faster than Fungible; newcomer Kalray with its MPPA technology; and Marvel with its Octeon 10 product.

Nvidia has a strong partnership with VMware, Kalray announced a big OEM deal, while AMD, Intel and Marvell are companies with strong channels through which they can pump products. All of this limits Fungible’s DPU market. For example, VAST Data chose Nvidia’s BlueField DPU for its Ceres storage enclosures; it’s a potential OEM gone. Dell partners with VMware and Nvidia for VxRail systems; another door is closing.

AMD’s Pensando DPU is available in major server OEM factories: the system powered by Dell’s VxRail HCI DPU and PowerEdge servers, and HPE’s ProLiant. Chris Ratcliffe, Networking Solutions Group Marketing Manager at AMD, said, “This means we’re good at a diverse set of enterprise and CSP/SP workloads.

The market for composable systems is growing rapidly and settling around CXL as the standard, but this requires a new generation of servers using AMD’s Genoa and Intel’s Sapphire Rapids processors. It also needs CXL endpoint system hardware and software, neither of which is a basic Fungible skill. This helps explain Fungible’s pivot away from composability.

The storage market for shared NVMe SSD chassis is hotly contested, with Dell, HPE, IBM, NetApp, Pure Storage and VAST Data all well funded and offering products in the market. Like Lightbits, Fungible focused on NVMe over TCP, viewing it as the logical upgrade to iSCSI SANs, but major vendors also support NVMe/TCP. The increased array speed and reduced latency becomes a relatively small benefit overall when compared to the sales channel strength and customer loyalty of traditional vendors.

The funding door for storage tech startups has also closed unless they’re concerned with data analytics software, think Alation ($123 million) or key:value SSDs, think Pliops ( $100 million), but Fungible competitor Lightbits swam against the tide, raising $42 million in June, as did Edge player HCI Scale Computing, which took in $55 million in July.

We understand from sources that Fungible tried to raise more money but couldn’t. Other people have been laid off, and now executives, the board and investors are faced with the dilemma of how to sustain the growth and future of the company in a market with deep-seated competitors. We even started to hear unconfirmed rumors of its acquisition.

When asked about this, Fungible’s vice president of marketing, Jennifer Bell, said, “Fungible remains committed to its customers and partners and does not comment or speculate on acquisition rumors.”

Martin E. Berry