We propose Lightning, the first reconfigurable photonic-electronic smartNIC to serve real-time deep neural network inference requests. Lightning uses a fast datapath to feed traffic from the NIC into the photonic domain without creating digital packet processing and data movement bottlenecks. To do so, Lightning leverages a novel reconfigurable count-action abstraction that keeps track of the required computation operations of each inference packet. Our count-action abstraction decouples the compute control plane from the data plane by counting the number of operations in each task and triggers the execution of the next task(s) without interrupting the dataflow.

To the best of our knowledge, our prototype is the highest-frequency photonic computing system, capable of serving real-time inference queries at 4.055 GHz end-to-end.