Wintel Forces Drive Ethernet Convergence in Data Center

Ethernet in the data center stepped forward on two fronts this week as Microsoft Corp. said it would support a new architecture for TCP/IP offload in its Windows Server operating

May 5, 2004

3 Min Read
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SEATTLE -- Ethernet in the data center stepped forward on two fronts this week as Microsoft Corp. said it would support a new architecture for TCP/IP offload in its Windows Server operating system starting next year.

Chip makers Alacritech Inc. (San Jose) and Broadcom Corp. (Irvine, Calif.) announced new Gbit Ethernet controllers geared for the new Windows software.

Separately, Intel Corp. said it was lowering the price and providing support for multimode fibre in its 10-Gbit Ethernet cards. All the announcements point to a broad drive to converge networking, storage and clustering functions in the data center on 10-Gbit Ethernet.

Established and startup chip makers have worked for sometime on offloading TCP/IP processing to dedicated silicon as that job threatens to swamp host processors in servers with multiple-Gbit links. However, to date chip makers have had to work around the lack of native support in operating systems for the relatively high-level task.

At the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference here Tuesday (May 4), Microsoft said it will support in Windows Server a partial TCP/IP offload approach as part of a new TCP/IP stack it calls Chimney. A beta version of Chimney for IPv4 will be released in the second half of this year with a formal product introduction early next year. It will also support load balancing.Later versions of Chimney will also natively support Remote Direct Memory Access, which helps reduce latency on bulk Ethernet transfers, and IPv6. Microsoft first detailed its Chimney architecture at last year's WinHEC, but didn't say when it would build it into Windows.

"Chimney is a major part of what Microsoft and OEMs can do together to enable next-generation data center networking. This is real and it is coming," said Steve Anderson, director of marketing for Windows Server.

Alacritech was quick to jump on the Chimney bandwagon, announcing its fourth-generation TCP/IP offload chip, the STA-2000, will support the Microsoft architecture. The STA-2000 is a dual-port Gbit Ethernet controller using the 133 MHz PCI-X bus and supporting cyclic redundancy checking. Joe Gervais, director of marketing at Alacritech, said the chip will boost Ethernet performance by up to 25 percent in an eight-way server, depending on workloads. The chip is sampling now and will sell for $120 in volumes when in production later this year. It consumes about 4 W.

TCP offload has not been adopted by servers, in part due to its additional hardware costs. Alacritech said volumes are currently in the tens of thousands annually, mainly for specialized storage hardware from companies such as Network Appliance.

Broadcom said it will support Microsoft's Chimney in a family of converged Ethernet products that will support networking with TCP offload, storage networking and clustering along with new features. Those products will be formally announced at Networld+Interop on May 10.Both Alacritech and Broadcom suggested their road maps include chips with greater port counts, support for the PCI Express interface probably early next year and for TCP/IP offload in 10G Ethernet chips with optical and copper interfaces in about 18 months.

Peter Glaskowsky, an independent analyst, said it will take several years for chip vendors to determine all the details of how they want to accelerate TCP offload. Ultimately the technology could spin out to other silicon providers beyond the Ethernet controller, he added.

Meanwhile, Intel announced Monday (May 3) its PRO/10GbE SR server adapter now uses XPAK interconnects to link to multimode optical fibre, aimed at distances of fewer than 300 meters. Intel reduced the price of the card to $4,770. Later this summer, Intel will introduce a version for single-mode fiber, the PRO/10GbE LR, for distances up to 10 kilometers.

"With a substantial reduction in cost and an adapter in a form factor that fits standard servers, [10-Gbit Ethernet] now promises to fill a rapidly growing need in the data center because the proliferation of Gbit Ethernet to the desktop," Hans Geyer, general manager of Intel's networking and storage group, said in a statement.

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