HP Hitches Servers to Storage

Launches a new network card with iSCSI, RDMA, and offload features

March 16, 2005

3 Min Read
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Boosting performance across servers and storage with specialist network interface cards: Could this be the shape of things to come? Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) clearly thinks so and has launched an all-singing, all-dancing network adapter in an attempt to link different data center technologies (see HP Unveils Multifunction Adapters).

Based on 5706 networking silicon from Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), the adapter comes in two flavors -- the NC370F fiber version and the NC370T twisted-pair version. Both use the PCI-X bus architecture.

iSCSI connectivity for storage devices can be added to the adapter, as can Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) connectivity for servers and a TCP/IP offload engine (TOE), which aims to reduce the strain on servers by offloading network and storage protocol stacks from overburdened processors.

RDMA is generating buzz at the moment because it enables data to move directly from the memory of one server to the memory of another, without using the machines operating systems. Since this reduces CPU usage, RDMA is being touted as an efficient, high-speed option for high-performance computing.

HP says the adapters give IT managers a consolidated approach to the various technologies within their data centers, from servers and storage right through to clusters. It's part of an HP campaign called Adaptive Enterprise that encompasses a range of servers and storage devices.But Bob Wheeler, senior analyst at The Linley Group, warns that users may have to wait some time to reap the full benefits of the new network adapter. “The technology and the software infrastructure is still immature,” he says. RDMA interoperability isn't likely to emerge in force until next year, he adds, and users may have to wait some time before the full range of software features is available to fully exploit the TOE.

But he thinks HP has made a shrewd move. “They are the first single-chip devices to incorporate TOE, RDMA, and iSCSI." Wheeler believes the adapter will be particularly attractive to users that need to run a range of networking, storage, and clustering applications on a single blade server.

With users struggling with the cost of managing a range of devices, Kelly Quinn, senior research analyst at IDC, thinks there is a ready-made market for the adapters. “I think that [HP] realizes the importance of introducing these options,” she says. “The market has a clear need for it, particularly when it comes to price sensitivity."

HP's also been smart to team up with Broadcom, Quinn notes. “Broadcom has already proved itself in the market."

Rich Palmer, HP’s director of marketing for servers and storage tells NDCF that a limited number of the network adapters have already been shipped to “less than a dozen” beta customers. The technology will become generally available in June, he adds.HP's move is likely to be followed by more news. IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) already offers a range of adapters, including iSCSI, for its servers, and RDMA is gaining momentum amongst vendors (see Ammasso Amasses $7.5M). It's not likely IBM will sit still long while a rival gains first-mover advantage.

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum

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