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SmartNIC Device Installation

Some motherboards have certain PCI Express slots connected directly to the processor and others connected to the chipset; for optimal performance, install the Cisco Nexus SmartNIC (formerly ExaNIC) in a slot directly connected to the processor. If installing in a dual-processor server with only one processor installed, take special care to install in the correct slot(s), otherwise the NIC may not show up at all.

Install SFP+ modules into the SmartNIC as required. There are no limitations on the type or manufacturer of SFP+ modules that can be used.


It is not recommended to connect BNC cables to the SMA ports using BNC-SMA adaptors. These adaptors exert extreme force on the SMA connectors, which can cause them to detach from the card. This damage is irreparable. An example of a BNC cable that should not be used.

For PPS/GPS distribution, we recommend using lightweight SMA to SMA coaxial cabling. An example of a SMA cable that should be used.

If termination of a BNC coaxial cable is required, we recommend using a BNC-SMA pigtail cable, and anchoring the cable so that force is not transferred to the SmartNIC. An example of a BNC-SMA pigtail cable that can be used (with appropriate strain relief).

Damage caused by using inappropriate adaptors, or by excessive force due to cabling is not covered by the SmartNIC warranty.

Software Installation

Install from source

To install from source, clone the code from Cisco Nexus SmartNIC (formerly ExaNIC) GitHub repository.

Running the following commands should build and install the driver, library and utilities:

$ make
$ sudo make install

By default, the library will be installed to /usr/local/lib/libexanic.a, include files to /usr/local/include/exanic and utilities to /usr/local/bin/exanic-*. (You can add a PREFIX= argument to the make install command to use a prefix other than /usr/local.) Additionally the driver (exanic.ko) will be installed into /lib/modules/'uname -r'/extra.

If the driver fails to build, ensure that you have the kernel headers package for your kernel installed (this is typically named kernel-devel [RedHat/CentOS] or linux-headers [Debian/Ubuntu]).

Driver Installation Verification

Assuming installation completed successfully, load the driver and verify that the exanic-config utility works:

$ sudo modprobe exanic
$ sudo exanic-config exanic0

If either of these commands fail, run dmesg and check for errors.

The exanic-config output will show the Linux interfaces corresponding to each port of the SmartNIC. You can verify that packets are being received by bringing up an interface and running tcpdump. For example:

$ sudo ifconfig eth7 up
$ sudo tcpdump -n -i eth7


Some systems may present the following error in the dmesg output:

modprobe: ERROR: could not insert 'exanic': Required key not available

To resolve this issue, change the BIOS from Windows to "Other OS". This should alter the "Secure boot" setup of the host and the module can now be loaded.

Setting permissions

If the SmartNIC is to be used in kernel bypass mode, it may be useful to set permissions on the SmartNIC device files (/dev/exanic0, etc, and the /dev/exasock device file used by ExaNIC Sockets) so that they can be accessed by certain non-root applications. Permissions can be set with chown/chgrp/chmod as normal, however this will not persist across reboots. A persistent configuration can be achieved by appropriate configuration of the udev daemon. For example, to force the device files to be accessible by a group called exanic, create a /etc/udev/rules.d/exanic.rules file as follows:

KERNEL=="exanic*", GROUP="exanic", MODE="0660"
KERNEL=="exasock", GROUP="exanic", MODE="0660"

In the current software release, the SmartNIC device files also expose the device control registers so only trusted users should be given access to the SmartNIC in this way.

If non-root users require utilities such as exanic-config, this can be accomplished by setting the appropriate Linux capability on the relevant binary, eg:

setcap cap_net_admin+ep $(which exanic-config)

Would allow non-root users to enable/disable interfaces via exanic-config.

Updating firmware

The firmware version currently running on the SmartNIC card is shown under 'Firmware date' in exanic-config. If there is a newer version available on the website, you can update your firmware as follows.

The exanic-fwupdate utility can be used to update the firmware image stored on the SmartNIC. This utility can use the compressed .fw.gz file format that firmware images are released as, or uncompressed .fw files.

$ exanic-fwupdate exanic_x40_20171019.fw
Querying target device...done (0.0s)
Loading and verifying update...done (0.2s)

Note that there are different firmware files for each type of SmartNIC. The utility will prevent you from installing firmware incompatible with your hardware.

If there are multiple SmartNICs installed into the system, the utility will require you to specify which NIC you are updating:

$ exanic-fwupdate -d exanic1 exanic_x40_20171019.fw

After the SmartNIC has been updated, the FPGA needs to be reloaded for the new firmware image to be active. This can be done via a host reboot.

Hot Reload

Instead of rebooting the host, exanic-fwupdate can "hot reload" the FPGA by passing a flag to the utility either during the update process or afterwards as shown below. This will cause the FPGA to reload it's firmware from flash. Note that the SmartNIC firmware image running on the card at the time of the update process must support the hot reload feature. exanic-fwupdate will output a message if hot reload is available, otherwise the host will need to be rebooted.

$ exanic-fwupdate -r
Reloading card.....done (2.8s)
The new firmware will take effect immediately.

Firmware Recovery

The SmartNIC stores two firmware images onboard. The first is the main "production" image that will be booted normally. The second image is the "recovery" image that can be booted if the main image is corrupted.

The recovery image can be booted into by holding down the recovery button on power up of the NIC. On the Cisco Nexus SmartNIC K35-S (formerly X10), the red LED will illuminate to indicate that the recovery program is being initiated. On the Cisco Nexus SmartNIC K35-Q (formerly X40), Cisco Nexus SmartNIC K3P-Q (formerly X100) and Cisco Nexus SmartNIC+ V5P cards, the link lights will flash in an alternating amber colored pattern. Recovery mode is only intended to allow a new firmware image to be loaded onto the device and should not be used for standard operation.


Additional steps are required in order to recover the Cisco Nexus SmartNIC+ V9P. This is described in detail on the SmartNIC V9P-specifc documentation.

Example SmartNIC K35-S (X10) recovery button

SmartNIC recovery button


If you installed from packages then you should use the appropriate yum or apt command (sudo yum remove 'exanic' or sudo apt-get remove 'exanic').

If you installed from source the following command should remove everything that was installed by make install:

$ sudo make uninstall

Also remove any files that were manually created while following these instructions (/etc/udev/rules.d/exanic.rules and any scripts that run exanic-clock-sync).


The SmartNIC card should follow the following transitions during power on and boot up:

  • When first powered all LEDs should flash on momentarily.
  • With no SFPs/QSFP modules inserted, all LEDs should then switch off. If the LEDs remain on with no modules inserted, and the card does not appear in lspci, attempt the firmware recovery process.
  • Upon SFP/QSFP module insertion, the port LEDs should turn orange. If the LEDs do not light check that the connector is fully inserted, or try a different module.
  • Once enabled from software, the port LEDs should turn green if link is detected. If LEDs remain orange, check that the port is enabled and has correct settings using the exanic-config utility.
  • If the red LED near the PPS connector is lit, or the port LEDs flash with no modules inserted, this indicates that the firmware was corrupt and the card has entered recovery mode. A new firmware must be loaded with the exanic-fwupdate utility.
  • If no LEDs light at any time, the card or slot may be damaged.


When using a server with only one of two possible processors installed, make sure the PCIe expansion slot used is one connected to the installed CPU, otherwise the NIC will not appear in lspci. This is a common installation error in dual-processor servers such as Dell R630 and R730.

This page was last updated on Dec-08-2022.