NICA: An Infrastructure for Inline Acceleration of Network Applications


Haggai Eran, Technion—Israel Institute of Technology & Mellanox Technologies; Lior Zeno, Maroun Tork, Gabi Malka, and Mark Silberstein, Technion—Israel Institute of Technology


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.

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@inproceedings {234884,
author = {Haggai Eran and Lior Zeno and Maroun Tork and Gabi Malka and Mark Silberstein},
title = {{NICA}: An Infrastructure for Inline Acceleration of Network Applications},
booktitle = {2019 USENIX Annual Technical Conference (USENIX ATC 19)},
year = {2019},
isbn = {978-1-939133-03-8},
address = {Renton, WA},
pages = {345--362},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = jul

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