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Startup Claims InfiniBand Alternative

A startup founded by longtime networking entrepreneurs Judy Estrin and Bill Carrico claims to have a solution to the problem of server I/O that's easier and cheaper to implement than InfiniBand, TOEs (TCP offload engines), or proprietary solutions.

Precision I/O is working on software to improve performance of the Ethernet link between server and network -- without requiring hardware upgrades or special devices and protocols, extra baggage Estrin says goes with InfiniBand.

"You'll see InfiniBand in niche applications, but you need a substantial infrastructure upgrade to make InfiniBand work, and customers won't do it," Estrin says. "We are 100 percent Ethernet... non-disruptive and require no new protocols or fabric." Using software that sits alongside the server operating system without penetrating the kernel, Estrin claims Precision I/O's solution improves transaction throughput two to seven times, and latency by three times.

So far, these are just claims. Nothing's shipping yet, and probably won't until at least mid-2004, though Estrin and partners plan to formally unveil Precision I/O and its strategy next week.

Still, the thought of an alternative solution to the server I/O bottleneck in today's networks is compelling. "Right now, servers are notoriously bad at I/O, which means that while
they can process data at amazing speeds within the server, it's hard to
get the data into them and out of them," writes Mark Hoover, president and co-founder of Acuitive Inc., a firm that specializes in helping technology startups -- but not, he says, Precision I/O. He says industry frustration with getting better network performance from high-end servers has built to a head: "Why is it that CPUs that can process the worlds biggest and most complex spreadsheets in microseconds can only serve Web content at 10 or 20 Mbit/s, even if they have a 1-GigE NIC?"

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