vSphere Distributed Services Engine provides you with the ability to offload some of the network operations from your server CPU to a data processing unit, or the so-called DPU device on the server. You can use vSphere Lifecycle Manager images and all vSphere Lifecycle Manager operations to manage the life cycle of the software and firmware that runs on the DPU devices of your servers.

Using DPU devices for network acceleration frees up the CPU capacity for business-critical workloads. Besides accelerating networking performance, using DPU devices provides security and compression acceleration.

What Is a DPU Device?

A DPU device is a SmartNIC device, or a high-performance network interface card, with added embedded CPU cores, memory, and a hypervisor running on the device independently from the ESXi hypervisor installed on the server. DPU devices are like limited-resource servers with multiple general-purpose compute cores.

The ESXi hypervisor that runs on the DPU device is a fully functional hypervisor, but it can only run on ARM CPU architectures. You don't use ESXi on the DPU to run and provision virtual machines and workloads. The hypervisor that runs on DPU devices is a trimmed version of the ESXi hypervisor that runs on your servers. This trimmed ESXi version is optimized for I/O activities, such as packet offloads, external management, and so on.

From vSphere perspective, the DPU device is a pre-configured device that you can start using without any further configuration or customizations.

You cannot manage DPU devices separately from managing your ESXi hosts. All lifecycle operations that you use to manage the lifecycle of the software and firmware on your hosts are used to also manage the software and firmware lifecycle of DPU devices in a DPU-based environment.

The only DPU devices that vSphere 8.0 supports are NVIDIA BlueFeild and Pensando Distributed Services Card (Pensando DSC).

How Do I Start Using a Server with a DPU Device?

To be able to use the advantages that vSphere Distributed Services Engine offers, your server must include a supported DPU device. You cannot purchase a DPU device separately and insert it into a legacy non-DPU server.

To start utilizing the DPU device on a server to offload network services, you must perform a fresh ESXi install on the server. You can perform the installation through interactive or scripted mechanisms. During installation, ESXi is installed both on the server and on the DPU device. In vSphere 8.0, the ESXi image contains VIBs for both the ESXi version to be installed on a host and the ESXi version to be installed on the DPU device on that host.

Managing the Lifecycle of the ESXi and Firmware on a DPU Device

You use vSphere Lifecycle Manager to upgrade the ESXi version and firmware on a DPU device. The VIBs that are needed to upgrade the DPU device are included in the base ESXi images that VMware distributes and that you have in the vSphere Lifecycle Manager depot. You don't need to take care of the software and firmware on a DPU device separately. For example, during remediation vSphere Lifecycle Manager updates ESXi both on the host and on the DPU device.

Almost all vSphere Lifecycle Manager operations work for DPU-based environments. In vSphere 8.0, only the following vSphere Lifecycle Manager operations don't work for clusters with DPU-backed hosts:
  • Recommendation generation
  • Hardware compatibility checks

Solutions Interoperability with vSphere Distributed Services Engine

NSX is the only solution that is allowed to push VIBs to ESXi on the server, on the DPU, or both. Currently, no other solutions can work together with the vSphere Distributed Services Engine.

System Requirements for Using vSphere Distributed Services Engine

  • ESXi 8.0 or later
  • vCenter Server 8.0 or later

Limitations to Using vSphere Lifecycle Manager for a DPU-Based Cluster

  • The vSphere Distributed Services Engine works for clusters and standalone hosts that you manage with a single vSphere Lifecycle Manager image. You cannot add a host with a DPU device to a cluster that you manage with baselines.
  • A host can have only one DPU device.
  • Each hosts in a cluster must have a DPU device.
  • All hosts must have DPU devices from the same vendor and of the same model. The DPU generation might vary.