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Networking firms take divergent paths to 10GbE

Posted: 10 Apr 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:10Gbit Ethernet? 10GbE adapter cards? computer data centers?

Sun Microsystems and adapter card maker Chelsio Communications are expanding their divergent efforts to define 10GbE, turning the competitive heat up on the technology seen as key for computer data centers.

Sun announced it has licensed its multithreaded Ethernet technology to Marvell Semiconductor Inc. Marvell will make chips for Sun and the two will co-develop future Ethernet chips using Sun's approach that leverages multicore processors.

iWarp forwards
Separately, Chelsio announced its first 10GbE adapter cards to use the Open Fabrics software designed to bring native Linux support to both 10GbE and Infiniband. The move is a step forward for the iWarp approach that uses a TCP offload engine (TOE) on an Ethernet card rather than pushing the TCP processing to a host processor, the route favored by Sun and Intel Corp.

The Open Fabrics software, developed by an ad hoc industry group, aims to ease the pain of supporting multiple networks such as Ethernet, Infiniband and Fibre Channel. But the Sun and Chelsio news shows vendors are continuing to pursue different paths for uniting data center traffic.

Sun said Marvell will build and sell to Sun and others high-performance networking products based on Sun's unique 10GbE technology. The two will also collaborate on upcoming generations expected to include 10GBaseT, 40Gbps Ethernet and beyond. Terms of the licensing agreement were not disclosed.

Intel's approach
Like Sun, Intel Corp. has been promoting its own approach to 10GbE baked into its processors and chipsets. The concept called I/O Acceleration Technology uses advances in its processors and chipsets. Both Intel and Sun hope to eliminate the need for TOEs, driving more jobs to their multicore CPUs.

Sun's Ethernet technology, code named Neptune, was released as an adapter card in February and will be built into its Niagara2 processors which handle up to 32 simultaneous threads. Rather than use TOEs, Sun's chip classifies and assigns traffic flows to as many as 24 threads in a server.

Sun claims the approach provides up to four-fold performance boost over its existing Ethernet products. It has applied for 22 patents on the technology.

"Marvell's broad customer base in the communications and storage markets will benefit from this innovative technology," said David Young, VP and general manager of Marvell's connectivity business unit in a prepared statement. "Sun's architecture creates a way to efficiently break bottlenecks by multithreading the network interface to increase throughput," he added.

TOE's market
By contrast, Chelsio is advancing the TOE approach mapped out by a broad group of companies including Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft who worked for several years to establish remote direct memory access technology. But with Sun and Intel both rolling out their own approaches that rely on unique features in their CPUs, the market for chips using the TOE approach could be significantly reduced.

Chelsio said its R310E adapters support the Open Fabrics Enterprise Distribution 1.2 software stack now accepted as part of the Linux kernel. The company claimed it was the first 10G TOE card to natively support Linux. The Chelsio cards can run Infiniband applications while using 10GbE. "By allowing seamless migration of computing applications to Ethernet, Open Fabrics support is an important step towards the unified wire vision where 10GbE becomes the fabric of choice for the convergence of storage, clustering and networking applications," said Kianoosh Naghshineh, chief executive of Chelsio.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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