Broadcom Broadens Storage Play

Announces converged NIC in anticipation of Ethernet playing a bigger role in storage networking

May 10, 2004

4 Min Read
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LAS VEGAS -- Networld + Interop -- Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), which has been increasingly using storage to diversify its chip product line, today made a move to try to accelerate the emergence of Ethernet as a storage networking technology.

Here at Networld + Interop, Broadcom launched the first of its new family of Gigabit Ethernet controllers, which it calls NetXtreme II. This time, Broadcom is doing more than dipping its toe into storage. It's putting a TCP/IP offload engine (TOE), an iSCSI host bus adapter (HBA), and remote direct memory access (RDMA) technology onto one chip. Broadcom calls the device a C-NIC, or converged network interface controller.

The controller is a sign of Broadcoms anticipation that Ethernet will make inroads against Fibre Channel in storage networking, especially as a backplane for blade servers.

Broadcom product manager Allen Light says he expects the major OEMs for the existing NetXtreme controllers -- Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) -- to also OEM the new chips in their servers. “Our vision is that this will be part of standard equipment on servers down the road,” he says. Broadcom is sampling the new controller and expects it to ship in the fourth quarter. Pricing will be about the same as its previous Gigabit Ethernet controllers.

The C-NIC eliminates the need for separate processors for a TOE and RDMA. The controller is the result of work Broadcom has been doing with other industry leaders to standardize TCP/IP offloading and RDMA over IP. (See Broadcom, Microsoft Offload TCP, TOE Vendors Flock to Microsoft, Microsoft Announces iSCSI Plans, , and RDMA Over TCP/IP Spec Done.)A TOE shifts the Ethernet protocol processing overhead from the host CPU to the network controller, freeing CPU and memory resources. Broadcom demonstrated a 1-Gbit/s implementation of its TOE technology using Microsoft Corp.’s (Nasdaq: MSFT) TCP chimney last week at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in Seattle. Microsoft's chimney architecture segments TCP/IP processing tasks between TOEs and the operating system networking stack.

Broadcom was among the founders of a consortium to develop an RDMA-over-TCP protocol standard, which analysts see as a necessary step in making IP a viable alternative to Fibre Channel in high-end storage networks. RDMA enables high-performance server clustering but has failed to win wide acceptance in storage networking because it requires the use of expensive, specialized interconnects such as InfiniBand. Making it available over TCP is considered a crucial step toward its wide implemention in data centers.

"What makes this significant to storage is that Broadcom’s in this market,” says Data Mobility Group Senior Analyst John Webster of Broadcom’s new controller. “We’re seeing some people coming in that haven’t traditionally been in the market.”

Like some of its rivals, Broadcom entered the storage sector looking to make up for sagging telecom revenues in recent years. In February, Broadcom spent $16.5 million on RAID controller startup RaidCore (see Broadcom Raids SATA Startup). It also unveiled a 12-port Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop Hub device in February and announced a NAS device for the home and SMB market in March (see Broadcom Introduces 4.25-Gbit/s Chips and Broadcom Broadens NAS Market).

Broadcom rivals Agere Systems Inc. (NYSE: AGR.A), Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC) (Nasdaq: AMCC), Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL), PMC-Sierra Inc. (Nasdaq: PMCS), and Vitesse Semiconductor Corp. (Nasdaq: VTSS) have also moved into storage in recent years. (See Agere, Trokia Develop SAN Products, AMCC Buys More Storage, Marvell Intros Storage Controllers, Marvell Charges Up SATA, PMC-Sierra Touts 4-Gig Switches, PMC Dips 4-Gig FC Chips, and Vitesse Buys GigE Ammo.)None of Broadcom’s competitors has announced plans for a similar C-NIC controller, but it would be no surprise to see one or more follow, now that IP SANs are starting to take off.

“Agere, Intel, Adaptec -- they’re all capable of pursuing this,” Webster says. “Don’t rule out any of the big players.”

Webster expects Broadcom’s new controller to quickly win wide support on blade servers. The C-NIC saves space and the cost of having to use separate processors to give TOE and RDMA capabilities to blades.

Zulfiqar Qazilbash!, co-founder and chief strategy officer for iSCSI processor startup iVivity Inc., says he hopes the new controller design will prompt other major players to accelerate IP SAN plans.

“It’s definitely a step forward for iSCSI and the convergence of Ethernet for an interconnect,” Qazilbash says. “It brings down the price points so maybe people like Intel and IBM can take this seriously.”— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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