Vendor Unification Brings Innovation to Ethernet

The new technology battleground of CEE / FCoE has thrown these vendors, in some cases naked, into the Ethernet market.

Frank Berry

May 19, 2009

3 Min Read
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Despite the enormous success and sophistication of Ethernet for data networking, the technology has taken a back seat to Fibre Channel for storage networking and InfiniBand for server networking.  A few years ago the Ethernet vendors set their sights on those markets and appear to be closer than ever to addressing the relative shortcomings of Ethernet for storage and server networking.


Fibre Channel has been so successful that the Ethernet community was forced to imitate features of Fibre Channel in order to vie for a bigger slice of the future storage networking pie. They started by implementing 100% backwards compatibility and by matching the higher bandwidth and lossless capability of Fibre Channel in CEE / FCoE.


The impending presence of a unified networking market has torn down the walls separating Fibre Channel, InfiniBand and Ethernet markets. The new technology battleground of CEE / FCoE has thrown Fibre Channel and InfiniBand vendors, in some cases naked, into the Ethernet market. This has created a strong sense of urgency among these new Ethernet vendors to establish differentiation and competitive advantage for their new Ethernet products.  In almost every case, their strategy is to bring innovation and specialized expertise to Ethernet based on their existing storage or server networking portfolio.


Great examples are recent announcements from Mellanox and Voltaire. Mellanox announced on Monday they are demonstrating Low Latency Ethernet (LLE) through an efficient RDMA transport over Layer2 10GbE networks for performance-critical and low-latency applications.  And just two weeks ago Voltaire announced their Scale Out Ethernet architecture featuring LLE for high performance business computing.


I expect these InfiniBand vendors to lead a trend towards LLE technology that is "just there" inside your CEE networking product. Ultimately, as LLE becomes much easier to sell, buy and deploy the technology will become a basic performance feature for enterprise data center architectures.


In both cases, the vendors have a proven track record of InfiniBand product development and end user deployments in environments that need low latency networks for high performance technical or business computing applications. The presence of these two vendors in the Ethernet market will cause traditional Ethernet vendors to ratchet up their investments and expertise in LLE if they want to compete for lucrative high performance computing business.


It's too early to tell if Fibre Channel and InfiniBand vendors can leverage the innovation they bring to Ethernet and sustain the competitive advantage needed to carve a place for themselves. But it's already crystal clear that end users are going to benefit from a fresh round of innovation and competition that network vendor unification is bringing.

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