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App Adapter To Help Solarflare Beat Out 10-GbE Competitors Like Broadcom, Intel, Emulex

Solarflare, a maker of network interface software and hardware, has announced a new 10 Gbit Ethernet (GbE) adapter that improves application performance for high-demand computing environments such as financial services firms. Many of those firms tried to develop their own field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) to speed up performance, but were stymied by the cost and engineering complexity.

The Solarflare ApplicationOnload Engine, to be available in late April, provides a direct path between the application and the network for applications that demand low latency, low jitter and high message rate performance, says CEO Russell Stern. He says of customers already using the company's existing technology, "We cut their latency by half, increased their message rate by from seven to 10 times and reduced jitter to zero." He identified the New York Stock Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade as Solarflare customers, but said others did not want to be identified for competitive reasons.

The 10-GbE standard is gaining new traction as network operators upgrade from 1 GbE to meet demand for more bandwidth. According to the latest market data, sales of 10-GbE switches are expected to reach $13 billion by 2016 and will constitute nearly half of a total $28 billion Ethernet switch market by then. That year sales of 40- and 100-GbE products will amount to $3 billion. Vendors in this market include Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Brocade, Cisco, Extreme Networks, Dell, HP, IBM and Juniper Networks.

Growth in 10-GbE deployments will be driven primarily by continued adoption of virtualization, meaning servers will be running at higher utilization rates than will non-virtualized servers, says Alan Weckel, senior director at Dell'Oro Group. Another driver is expected to be the server refresh cycle prompted by the release of Intel's new Romley microprocessor platform, which will provide the faster server throughput that is needed for virtualization, he adds.

"Romley comes out in the first half of 2012, so 2012 is going to be the time that enterprises go through qualification tests of the new servers and new switches. The hockey stick up is [in] 2013," Weckel says.

Solarflare's ApplicationOnload Engine (AOE) adds FPGA capability to a previously introduced Solarflare OpenOnload application programming interface for connecting apps to the network. The company learned that many of its financial services customers were trying to engineer a FPGA feature of their own, but had trouble doing the engineering and financing the projects internally, says Stern. The AOE from Solarflare will be sold with either custom software developed by the financial institution, software developed by Solarflare or software from a third party, he says.

Solarflare is actually co-developing the AOE solution with some of the financial institutions needing it, says Scott Woolsey, director of brand development at Solarflare. He declined to identify them, but adds they are "household name" companies. Solarflare also sells through value-added resellers that serve the financial services industry.

While Solarflare adapters have found a market in other compute-intensive fields such as video surveillance, oil and gas exploration, research institutions, virtualized data centers and other big data applications, "we chose to land our beach craft in the financial services market," Stern says, because of the market opportunity there for financial trading and business analytics where speed, accuracy and up time are critical.

Stern believes the AOE capability distinguishes Solarflare from other 10-GbE server adapter vendors such as Broadcom, Intel, Qlogic and Emulex, and that Solarflare has greater market share than them in the financial services sector because of the 10GbE server adapter and OpenOnload software already on the market.

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