Installation and
of Open NICs

ICONICS is an initiative and an open draft specification that has been contributed to the Open Compute Project (OCP). ICONICS provides open guidelines for packaging data plane firmware applications and aims to standardize how functionality of a bare metal SmartNIC installed in COTS and OCP-based servers can be altered in the field to suit the needs of data center operators.

The ICONICS project shall – through a community-developed specification – propose a set of industry best practices to develop a packaging procedure so that existing vendor-agnostic and open source firmware update tools can be utilized.

Open NICs


Today, data center operators implement a rich set of networking services on the servers like quality of service, switching, security functions, security groups, load balancing, etc. For these services, the selection, design and implementation choices vary significantly across data center operators. Data center operators have faced a choice between innovation and performance in realizing these server-based networking services. As data centers embrace network architectures based on software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV) the rate of change in the data plane in server-based networking will continue to increase.

The growth of NFV and SDN technologies is increasingly leading data center operators to replace fixed function NICs with SmartNICs, NICs that can be reprogrammed by an operator to the specific data plane applications needed and have the applications be potentially deployed or updated in the field. SmartNICs, and in general programmable accelerator devices, used in data center servers usher the possibility of Open NICs where the operator defines the behavior of the NIC rather than the NIC supplier, and a new deployment model for NICs in a bare metal form.

ICONICS allows server vendors, ODMs, distributors and resellers to manage their operations with a small number of hardware SKUs for SmartNICs without having to worry about firmware and/or data plane application SKUs. It provides packaging guidelines to the application developers so they can create applications that can be deployed at scale in data center environments. It also provides sample repositories to demonstrate packaging and deployment repository aspects. Finally, by providing open and common source tools and integrating with current processes it allows data center operators to customize the server-based networking to match their networking needs.

The initiative will make sample data plane firmware application binaries, packaged using the guidelines in the draft specification, available at the ICONICS application repository in the Resources Page during the middle of 2017.

Goals and Objectives

The ICONICS specification is aimed to satisfy the following high-level goals and objectives:

  • No-touch conflict-free memoryless updates of functional packages on the SmartNIC
  • Support bare-metal NIC Model
  • Integrated with current processes commonly used by data center operators
  • Utilize open and common source firmware update tools
  • Secure updates from diverse sources