Sunday, April 29, 2007

Ethernet takes on Infiniband

Startup Net Effect officially makes a second go at the market for enhanced Ethernet adapters starting today with the release of its NE020 card. The company claims the dual-port 10Gbit/second Ethernet card closely approaches the throughput, latency and cost of Infiniband, currently the performance leader in data center networking.

It's worth noting that none of the enhanced Ethernet cards based on the iWarp standard have had much market traction yet, despite the fact some of the heavy hitting Ethernet vendors have been behind this effort for several years. There are plenty of reasons for that. The initial Gbit cards were too slow, costly and didn't have mature software support.

Net Effect said it spent most of last year ironing the bugs out of its initial single-port 10G products and now it expects to see volume sales for the dual-port cards starting this fall. We shall see.

As always, things keep moving. The problem for the iWarp crew these days is that Intel and Sun have developed their own approaches, driving TCP offload back to their multi-core CPUs. That solves the main problems iWarp was designed to solve several years ago—getting the full throughput of 10G without overloading the CPU. Thus these new CPUs could severely limit the available market for iWarp adapters.

Net Effect claims the new concern today is getting lowest possible latency and consolidating around few data center interconnects. I don't know if that's really what data center managers are thinking or not, but I am open to hearing from anyone who knows.

The other big problem for Net Effect is that this new product comes out at a time when virtualization is really hot, but the PCI SIG standard for handling I/O virtualization over Express is not quite done. The startup will spin a new ASIC next year for use on the motherboard that it expects will comply with the then-completed standard. But if the NE020 does not take off, Net Effect could run out of money before it gets to that opportunity.

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