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Analysis

"World's first" single chip CNA for FC/10Gb Ethernet to bring immediate infrastructure cost savings
Peter Williams By: Peter Williams, Practice Leader - IT Infrastructure Mgmt., Bloor Research
Published: 7th April 2009
Copyright Bloor Research © 2009
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Network managers, and others looking for quick and potentially big networking savings, might consider the potential impact of QLogic's all-new 8100 Series of PCI-Express converged network adapters (CNAs). Announced last week, these are the first to use a single chip ASIC to combine communication from fibre channel (FC) and 10Gb Ethernet into one FCoE environment—and will handle data traffic at full 10Gb Ethernet speeds. For some this will save capital and operational costs without sacrificing performance.

No additional external components are required, so it slots into an existing infrastructure and, from then on, the savings can be introduced when appropriate.

Think about it. From the point where these two communication types are brought together—say to converge traffic from an Ethernet LAN and an FC SAN—the user can forget all the networking infrastructure normally needed with supporting FC.

An obvious first saving is a single server port that can handle both 10Gb Ethernet and FC HBA traffic freeing up potentially half a server's comms slots. There is also one cable instead of two (copper or FC) to handle the data traffic and a potential halving of the number of switches needed. Management should also be simplified as there are common APIs and management tools familiar to QLogic users.

Big savings can also be achieved in power consumption and heat output with the company estimating it consumes about a third the power of existing CNAs. More importantly, as Henrik Hansen, marketing director EMEA, says, this represents about 7W—which is little more than a dedicated FC HBA equivalent will use and therefore almost a total saving on the 10Gb Ethernet NIC which would also be needed. Part of the reason for the low wattage is that the cool-running adapter needs no heat sink or extra cooling on the adapter.

This, along with the physical equipment savings, works for those who have power and/or space constraints in their data centres—and for providing an image of being more ‘green'.

However, the most pressing question to businesses is probably how does performance stack up? "We are getting very good performance, 250,000 IOPS per port," Hansen said, explaining this means a full 10Gb Ethernet speed (so greater even than 8Gb FC). One factor in this is another first, which is that the dual-port ASIC is the first to carry an integrated FCoE offload engine on it.

Obviously, each organisation needs to look at the effect of aggregating the two data traffic streams—and projecting the likely rise in the foreseeable future—to see if this IOPS figure is enough; if it is, it should be a goer.

Also, there have been some concerns associated with 10Gb Ethernet switches which have slowed down FCoE adoption. Hansen said that new standards were now overcoming this and the new ASIC had also been quality tested with all tier 1 server vendors.

A clincher may be that new server developments are heavily oriented towards blade technology. The ASIC is ‘blade and storage system ready'. Hansen said that some leading blade vendors were working with QLogic to put its ASICs on the blade motherboard to support dedicated FC or 10Gb Ethernet or a combination.

We should see the fruits of this well before year-end, by which time competitors may have brought out equivalent single-chip offerings. So I think this will kick-start FCoE and then be the way networking will tend to be develop from now on.

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Published by: IT Analysis Communications Ltd.
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