QLogic Unveils Converged Network Adapter on a Chip

The 8100 Series of PCI-Express adapters can handle storage and data traffic at full 10-Gigabit Ethernet line speeds, the company says

March 31, 2009

4 Min Read
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The idea of a converged data center network fabric that can handle LAN and storage traffic has been gaining a lot of traction in the past year as IT managers look to simplify their infrastructures and increasingly turn to virtualization to improve the utilization rates of their servers and storage systems. Fibre Channel over Ethernet is viewed as one of the leading candidates to facilitate that convergence, and it got a big boost Monday with the introduction by QLogic of a single-chip Converged Network Adapter. (See QLogic Launches FCoE CNA on a Chip.)

QLogic said it had gained design wins with several top server and storage equipment makers, and its announcement includes quotes of support from Cisco, Dell, EMC, HP, IBM, Microsoft, NetApp, Sun, and VMware.

The 8100 Series of PCI-Express adapters uses the company's Network Plus Architecture and can handle storage and data traffic at full 10-Gigabit Ethernet line speeds. They consume one-third the power of existing CAN chipsets and generate less heat, the company says. They include an FCoE off-load engine to reduce demands on server CPUs and include memory and processors.

"We've taken five disparate chips and integrated them into one ASIC. It is the result of several years of research and development," says Amit Vashi, vice president of marketing at QLogic Host Solutions Group. He says it still isn't clear which storage and networking protocol will end up as the primary one, but that the company's CNAs can handle them all. "We have invested in all the Layer 2 technologies, so no matter which technology wins we will benefit. HPC environments use InfiniBand because it provides the lowest latency. Fibre Channel is the de facto standard for enterprise storage. iSCSI is strong in SMB environments. We believe going forward the enterprise data center will use FCoE."

QLogic expects to see products -- probably blade servers and storage systems -- using its chip hitting the market later this year and says they will appeal to IT managers who want to move to a converged and consolidated data center to reduce spending on things like network cards, host bus adapters, and cables. IT also is offering a centralized network management application that can help to provision all types of data center resources from a single console. Because the silicon can handle current protocols, end users can begin to deploy FCoE technology as they upgrade data center equipment, rather than doing a wholesale revamp, Vashi says.Historically, converting key technology processes and capabilities from software to hardware is a major step that leads to faster and cheaper products and often is a major step on the road to standardization and commoditization. That can make certain technologies easier to use as they are designed into products and don't have to be managed as add-ons. There are other trends that may increase interest in FCoE and enhance QLogic's prospects.

The trend toward bigger data centers and virtualization is causing IT managers to look for ways to break up the silos that currently exist, says David Vellante, principle contributor to Wikibon, a community of IT professionals and research analysts. "The application is in control, and virtualization breaks the stranglehold of infrastructure," he says. FCoE is a way to combine data networks and storage networks into a single network that can be centrally managed for better performance and at less cost. "It is pretty cool to put all of this on a single chip and I think all of the Fibre Channel guys are going to buy into it. And for QLogic, there is a big advantage to being first."

Developing an FCoE chip is a natural move for QLogic, a leading supplier of networking adapters and switches. QLogic, along with rival Emulex, needs to stay ahead of technology trends. The long-range challenge for both of them will come when equipment makers start to add high-speed network capabilities like FFCoE or 10 Gigabit Ethernet onto server motherboards.

"QLogic had no option other than to forge ahead with this kind of product. They have to carve out a market and try to protect it," says Nik Simpson, a senior research analyst at the Burton Group research firm. "Over the long term, I expect FCoE to be built right into the motherboard. It is not clear how much of a market there will be for third-party products. They might survive at the storage end of the connection."InformationWeek Analytics has published an independent analysis of the challenges around virtualization management. Download the report here (registration required).

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