NICA: An infrastructure for inline acceleration of network applications

Haggai Eran, Lior Zeno, Maroun Tork, Gabi Malka, Mark Silberstein

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


With rising network rates, cloud vendors increasingly deploy FPGA-based SmartNICs (F-NICs), leveraging their inline processing capabilities to offload hypervisor networking infrastructure. However, the use of F-NICs for accelerating general-purpose server applications in clouds has been limited. NICA is a hardware-software co-designed framework for inline acceleration of the application data plane on F-NICs in multi-tenant systems. A new ikernel programming abstraction, tightly integrated with the network stack, enables application control of F-NIC computations that process application network traffic, with minimal code changes. In addition, NICA’s virtualization architecture supports fine-grain time-sharing of F-NIC logic and provides I/O path virtualization. Together these features enable cost-effective sharing of F-NICs across virtual machines with strict performance guarantees. We prototype NICA on Mellanox F-NICs and integrate ikernels with the high-performance VMA network stack and the KVM hypervisor. We demonstrate significant acceleration of real-world applications in both bare-metal and virtualized environments, while requiring only minor code modifications to accelerate them on F-NICs. For example, a transparent key-value store cache ikernel added to the stock memcached server reaches 40 Gbps server throughput (99% line-rate) at 6 µs 99th-percentile latency for 16-byte key-value pairs, which is 21× the throughput of a 6-core CPU with a kernel-bypass network stack. The throughput scales linearly for up to 6 VMs running independent instances of memcached.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 2019 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, USENIX ATC 2019
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781939133038
StatePublished - 2019
Event2019 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, USENIX ATC 2019 - Renton, United States
Duration: 10 Jul 201912 Jul 2019

Publication series

NameProceedings of the 2019 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, USENIX ATC 2019


Conference2019 USENIX Annual Technical Conference, USENIX ATC 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited States

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Computer Science


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