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Mellanox Introduces 40 Gigabit Ethernet Adapter

Mellanox has announced the new ConnectX-2 EN 40G, a single port 40GigE
adapter for the PCIe 2.0 bus. The new card is intended to provide a
link between high-performance servers, or between these servers and
attached storage, that can take full advantage of the 40 gigabit PCIe
2.0 bus and the multi-core processors it supports.

According to John Monson, vice president of marketing for Mellanox, the key considerations behind bringing the EN 40G to market were low-latency; high-performance network performance; support for the kinds of infrastructures that require high-performance computing ,including virtualization and cloud computing; and low energy consumption. "A 2-port 10 Gig adapter at a chip level is about 4.5 watts - that's already saving a lot of power. The 40 Gig E chip power level is about 6 - 7 watts. On an adapter card you might add 20 per cent overhead to that, but there are 10 gig E cards on the market that can burn 20 watts of power and that's not positive in a green sense," Monson says.

Because Mellanox sells the vast majority of its products through OEMs and VARs, Monson wasn't able to provide a separate cost estimate for the EN 40G. He said that Mellanox's OEM partners include Intalio and Oracle, and that he expects to see companies begin to incorporate the new card in 2010. He also said that 2010 should see the first 40 GigE switches come to market. Until the switches become available, the EN 40G will be used in point-to-point installations and laboratory setting in which companies test applications and infrastructure components for compatibility and performance impact.

qsfp_cable_sml.jpgThe Mellanox EN 40G uses standard Quad Small Form-factor Pluggable (QSFP) connectors and cabling for copper connectivity. Asked whether a twisted-pair standard for 40 GigE connections was coming soon, Monson said, "The technical challenge of twisted pair with 40 gigs is formidable. We do cards with both twisted pair and QSFP for 10 gigs, but I'd make two points: twisted pair is rolling out for 10 gigs now, but it has more difficulties relating to cost and power compared to QSFP." He continued, "It will grow in 2010, and 2011 is when we'll see more connections in twisted pair. 40 gigs is a long way off, and you can make the argument that there will be a convergence between optical and copper between 10 gigs and 40 gigs, and on to 100 gigs. You won't be running 100 gigs with 10-base connectors." Monson concluded, "I think the market's going to go to QSFP connectors, and there are arguments to be made to go ahead and eat the conversion now. Other people make the argument that there's another generation of UTP for 10 gig coming...we're agnostic."

The big question for the market is whether there's genuine demand for 40 gigabit Ethernet. Five years ago, some analysts felt that we would be living in a world of 10 gigabit backbones right now, but technology and the economy have conspired to slow adoption of 10 gigabit in favor of gigabit Ethernet. Graphics-heavy applications and scientific computing will each be able to make use of the speed that comes with 40 gigabit Ethernet, but it costs more in terms of cabling and connectors than in server or switch ports, and this will go a long way toward determining whether 40 GigE is allowed to get off the ground before something even more high-performance comes along to steal its market thunder.