Level 5 Launches

Unveils $30M funding and alternative Ethernet acceleration technology

June 21, 2005

3 Min Read
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Level 5 Networks Inc. went public today with product news and a late announcement of $30 million in Series B funding -- the latest of several alternatives for faster data center interconnection.

Level 5 is a semiconductor company that offers EtherFabric, a technique for reducing the overhead of TCP/IP applications -- including iSCSI ones -- in Ethernet networks. The firm, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., with about 50 employees, has raised $39 million in funding since its founding in 2002.

The latest round of $30 million was completed in February 2005 and included Accel Partners, Amadeus Capital Partners Ltd., IDG Ventures, and Oak Investment Partners.

EtherFabric is being sold as a two-port, 1-Gbit/s PCI adapter for use in Linux-based blade servers, Web servers, clusters, and storage devices. It removes TCP/IP processing from the operating system kernel and puts it in the application via use of a special runtime library. By the end of this year, the company plans to have a PCI-Express version available, and by the first part of 2006, a 10-Gbit/s version.

Level 5 is offering EtherFabric HBAs and software to OEMs and integrators for $495 in 100-unit quantities.By offloading processing that taxes the operating system, Level 5 says it can increase the number of CPU cycles available to applications and improve bandwidth by a factor of 2, while cutting latency by up to 5 times the current levels of TCP/IP-over-Ethernet applications.

EtherFabric's value prop is that you don't have to change your network to make it work. Emerging solutions like iWarp, comprising Remote Direct Memory Access over Ethernet, and high-speed InfiniBand require substantive changes to existing infrastructure, the vendor claims.

"Unless it's ubiquitous it's not usable," says Dan Karr, Level 5's CEO, who came to the startup in 2002 from DSL silicon maker Globespan-Virata, after jobs at S3, Cirrus Logic, and Adaptec.

Level 5 Networks, however, is just one of several vendors offering alternatives for faster links between data center equipment, including links in storage networks. Others, including those embracing InfiniBand, have their own counterclaims to savings, and several will be making announcements this week, tapping the International Supercomputer Conference in Heidelberg, Germany Mellanox Doubles InfiniBand).

At least one analyst thinks EtherFabric is worth considering. "The concept of speeding up Ethernet by reducing overhead used by the operating system reduces delay and frees up CPU cycles, potentially providing more capacity," says Dave Passmore of Burton Group. "Of course, we have no third-party tests to confirm their performance claims, but logically, it makes a lot of sense."Passmore says only one other firm to date has offered something similar: Precision I/O, a startup founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Judy Estrin (see Startup Claims InfiniBand Alternative). That startup has slipped below the radar, however, and a message left at HQ got no response at press time.

For now, Level 5 claims momentum with a range of early adopters. It's also been part of the High Performance and Technical Computing (HPTC) Alliance sponsored by Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW). (See Sun Gets More Grid.) If it can prove it's "just another application" approach to accelerating Ethernet, not just another flash in the pan, the results could be interesting indeed.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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