NetEffect Inc. (Austin, Texas) claims that its dual-port 10-Gbit/second Ethernet card closes in on the throughput, latency and cost of Infiniband, currently the performance leader in data center networking. The NE020 card implements the iWarp standard, defined more than five years ago to create a high-performance version of Ethernet using the techniques baked into Infiniband.
The card achieves throughput of nearly 1,200 Mbytes/second and latencies of about 7 microseconds on a single 10-Gbit write. That's still shy of Infiniband, which now delivers a double-data-rate card that hits 20 Gbits/s with throughput of more than 1,400 Mbytes/s and latency of about 2 µs. But the state-machine implementation used in the NetEffect chip can pipeline more than 20 simultaneous requests, helping the card meet or exceed Infiniband in its dual-port configuration under heavy workloads.
The move to quad-core processors, often in two-socket servers, will generate the multiple simultaneous Ethernet links the NE020 needs to shine, said Rick Maule, president and chief executive officer of NetEffect.
The deep pipelines of the state-machine approach used by NetEffect also set the startup apart from other iWarp players using a more conventional implementation based on programmable embedded processors, said Maule. "The best I have seen in terms of latencies from those companies is something in the high teens [of microseconds], and that's not under real workloads," he said.
NetEffect's card uses a new, 90-nanometer ASIC, a shrink of its 130-nm chip, to build a card that lists for $895 for a single-port and $1,195 for a dual-port version. It dissipates just 7 watts at the card level, well below the 20 W of some competitors.
Part of the shrink came from a shift in design methodology. With the new product, the startup moved from a gate array based on the RapidChip from LSI Logic Corp. to a customer-owned-tool approach for an ASIC made at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd.
"We were the biggest chip LSI ever did with RapidChip," an approach LSI has since discontinued, said Maule. "There are a lot of wasted gates when you do a gate array."
Despite its smaller size, the new chip has a more powerful engine capable of handling more than 2 million messages a second, up from 1.4 million for the gate array. The ASIC also integrates 10-Gbit Ethernet serializer/deserializer components that used to ride on the adapter card.
NetEffect has plenty of familiarity with the networking goodie bag of Infiniband. The company had its roots in that spec, working under the name Banderacom Inc., until it became clear that opportunities in Infiniband were narrowing just as the iWarp concept of Ethernet was being defined.
Much like Infiniband, iWarp Ethernet adapters are expected to help data center users consolidate multiple traffic types, including clustering and storage, on one network.
NetEffect implements the full iWarp standard in its solution, including re- mote direct memory access and operating system bypass in user and kernel mode. It also support a full TCP offload engine (TOE).
Some companies--including Alacritech Inc., which invented the TOE--use a partial offload approach, seeking less expensive cards. Microsoft Corp. has blessed that route with so-called TCP Chimney software in its latest versions of the Windows Server 2003 operating system. But Microsoft also supports WinSock Direct in its server software, opening the door to the full Infiniband-style networking defined by iWarp.
The iWarp startups face competition from processor makers Intel Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., which are delivering new features in their multicore CPUs to handle enhanced Ethernet processing. Maule said so far he has not seen any market impact from Intel's rollout of a 1-Gbit/s version of its I/O Acceleration Technology in its CPUs. Intel will roll out a 10-Gbit version later this year.
Maule said the Intel and Sun ap- proaches help get close to the full line speed on 10-Gbit Ethernet, but he argued they do little to improve Ethernet's notoriously poor latency. The latter, he said, is a growing concern that is addressed by the NetEffect cards.
Next year, NetEffect plans to update its ASIC for a part that can be used on server motherboards. That product will comply with the PCI virtualization standard now under development at the PCI Special Interest Group.
Net Effect shipped its first products, single-port Ethernet cards for the iWarp standard, about a year ago, but saw "no significant shipments" of those adapters, Maule said. He said he hopes his company's new adapter cards have a significant production ramp in the fall. If they do, the company could hit a break-even point late this year or early in 2008.
Maule said he does expect to raise additional funds before the company becomes profitable.
Single-port versions of the NE020 are shipping now. Dual-port versions will ship by August. The company will support CX4 cables for 15-meter links, as well as powered CX4 cables that require connectors with embedded active components and can run to lengths of up to 100 meters.
Using an X2 module, the new NetEffect adapter card will also be able to support optical fiber and the emerging 10GBase-T standard.
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