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Why I don't buy Eyal's 40G story

Posted: 29 Feb 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:10Gb Ethernet? Ethernet controller? networks?

The chief executive of Mellanox Technologies, Eyal Waldman, is pushing drive server makers to adopt this year his company's 40Gb/s Ethernet controller, which also handles 56G Infiniband. This is a big leap over what most of the industry is planning.

This is the year of 10Gb Ethernet. For 10 years, engineers have been working to establish 10G as the baseline Ethernet speed for servers. However, the technology was too costly or power hungry.

Now a class of so-called 10GBase-T chips has emerged, which for about 2W can drive 10G over about 10m of copper cables. Intel has built one called Twinville, reportedly using a third party physical layer block from startup Aquantia as part of its secret sauce.

The Twinville chip will be soldered on to the motherboard of Intel's Romley server platform due to ship in March. Big server makers such as Dell, HP and IBM are said to have their own designs that use a slot into which they may plug a great variety of 10GBase-T and other 10G cards.

Even the last big step in this 10G road has been a difficult one. The Romley boards and many of the 10GBase-T products need PCI Express Gen 3. Difficulties validating the fast PCIe 3.0 designs were one of the reasons the Romley boards have been delayed, one Intel manager said.

For Eyal, it's not fast enough. If servers make the leap to 40G it will bust through a bandwidth bottleneck, he noted. That will enable end users to pack more virtual machines on each server and reduce the total number of servers they need, he said.

Mellanox is claiming it's already getting traction with big Web 2.0 data centers and others that are adopting the approach. I'm skeptical.

I talked to a senior manager of one big data center that Eyal claims is a close partner. The data center manager said he is indeed kicking the tires on the Mellanox 40G chip in a few test deployments, but he has strong reservations about it.

The Mellanox scheme requires taking a cost hit up front. Eyal said he is selling his 40G chips for two to 2.5 times the price of the 10G chips, so it's a deal, but still a cost hit.

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