Siliquent Segues (Sibilantly) to 10-Gig

Another startup joins the race for 10-Gbit/s Ethernet - perhaps hoping to attract a suitor

July 28, 2004

3 Min Read
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Another startup has slipped into the race for 10-Gbit/s Ethernet chips: Siliquent Technologies Ltd. has emerged from stealth and is sampling 4- and 10-Gbit/s Ethernet Network Interface Cards (NICs).

Siliquent is making its move a couple of months after Chelsio Communications Inc. began demonstrating its 10-Gbit/s Ethernet chip (see Siliquent Goes 4- and 10-Gig and Startup Leads iSCSI HBA Speed Race). Another startup, S2io Technologies Corp., has a 10-Gbit/s Ethernet card without as much functionality as Siliquent's or Chelsio's (see S2io Calls Out Intel and SGI Goes 10-Gig).

Siliquent CEO Charles Chi says he hopes to have design wins with subsystem or server vendors in the fourth quarter, with products hitting the market early next year.

Architecturally, the Siliquent silicon is similar to Broadcom Corp.'s (Nasdaq: BRCM) NetXtreme II, announced in May (see Broadcom Broadens Storage Play). Like Broadcom, Siliquent combines remote direct memory access (RDMA), iSCSI, and TCP/IP offloading capabilities on one chip.

RDMA is a technique that enables high-performance server clustering, but it 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 implementation in data centers.So how do Siliquent's chips stack up against the competition's? Broadcom's chips are still limited to 1 Gbit/s, though observers expect faster chips by the end of the year. Broadcom product manager Allen Light says the company will announce new features this fall, but he won't go into detail.

Chelsio's chip is designed for PCI-X cards for servers and does not handle RDMA. S2io's 10-Gbit/s Ethernet NIC lacks the offload function.

Where are the big storage guys on this? Adaptec Inc. (Nasdaq: ADPT) says it has a roadmap for 10-Gbit/s iSCSI HBAs, but it won't say when it expects to deliver. According to CFO Mark Delsman, Adaptec does have an ASIC sampling with OEMs that supports iSCSI and has two Ethernet ports, full offload, IPSec, and RDMA. The Adaptec chip is believed to be the first of this kind with dual ports.

Startup Alacritech Inc. claims it has a 10-Gbit/s design completed and will make a 10-Gbit/s iSCSI HBA available when market demand arises. But major HBA vendors Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX) and QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC) have not yet announced plans for 10 Gbit/s.

Then again, maybe they don't plan to develop their own designs at all. "You have to wonder if they're going to develop their own 10-Gbit/s [components] or acquire a company that has it," says Linley Gwennap of The Linley Group.Maybe that's why all the noise is coming from startups. "We're doing what we can to create an attractive business," says Chi, whose company has been around since 2001 (see Siliquent Scores $10 Million). "A startup being acquired is a much higher probability than a startup staying independent, but we can't build a company to be sold. We're just building a company."

Siliquent is building around the emerging Ethernet storage market. Chi admits the 10-Gbit/s capability isn't as important as the ability to place so many functions on one chip. He says that's where the competition will follow: "I think you'll see a lot of repositioning of companies that started to develop TCP/IP offload engines (TOEs)," he says.

Still, wide adoption of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet is considered one of the future drivers of iSCSI SANs. Chi predicts that will happen around 2006. As such, he thinks the 4-Gbit/s card will initially gain more traction.

"The 10-Gbit/s market is still pretty small now," Gwennap comments. "It's not like there's a big race to get out there."

Chi also sees his NICs winning a place in the high performance cluster market, but InfiniBand is already carving out a space in that market with a lower price and lower latency than Ethernet NICs.Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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