By Dave Simpson
—Emulex this week became the first major host bus adapter (HBA) vendor to announce shipments of 8Gbps Fibre Channel HBAs, which effectively double the I/O performance of existing HBAs.
Emulex is shipping the single-channel LightPulse LPe12000 to its OEM partners, and a dual-channel version—the LightPulse LPe12002—is due in early March, according to Scott McIntyre, Emulex's vice president of software and customer marketing. The adapters support the PCI Express 2.0 host interface.
Assuming two- to three-month qualification times for OEMs, the 8Gbps HBAs could reach the end-user market in the April-May time frame.
Emulex claims 13 OEM design wins for the 8Gbps HBAs.
The obvious question with 8Gbps Fibre Channel is: Who needs it? McIntyre says that, in addition to large, transactional database servers with high I/O bandwidth requirements, virtual servers will be the primary driver behind end-user adoption of 8Gbps Fibre Channel.
"Users are rapidly increasing the number of virtual machines they're putting on their hypervisors," says McIntyre. "In large environments, 20 VMs are common and we've seen as many as 100. That puts a lot of stress on the I/O capabilities of the servers."
The LightPulse LPe12000 series supports N-Port ID Virtualization (NPIV) virtual ports, which are also supported in VMware. (NPIV allows multiple N-Port IDs to share a single physical N-Port.)
Other potential application areas for 8Gbps Fibre Channel include multi-core servers and blade servers.
The LP312000 supports the same features, drivers, and management tools as Emulex's existing HBAs, but a few new features have been—or will be—added in the 8Gbps adapters, including
- Support for Message-Signaled Interrupts eXtended (MSI-X), an industry standard that provides a more efficient method of processing interrupts from the fabric, which increases CPU efficiency;
- Support for host-to-fabric authentication using the DHCHAP protocol. This was announced last fall and initially implemented on Emulex's 4Gbps HBAs, but McIntyre says adoption of this technology will pick up with the 8Gbps introduction;
- In the second half of this year, Emulex plans to integrate its BlockGuard data integrity technology into the 8Gbps HBA line. BlockGuard provides an end-to-end (application layer to disk layer) data integrity checking mechanism.
Emulex's primary competitor in the HBA space—QLogic—is expected to officially announce its 8Gbps Fibre Channel HBAs within the next month or so. McIntyre says Emulex plans to differentiate its 8Gbps HBAs from QLogic's primarily in the areas of management simplicity in large environments, its NPIV implementation, and in the areas of authentication and data integrity features.
Another HBA vendor—Atto Technology, which specializes in high-performance markets—plans to demonstrate its 8Gbps Fibre Channel HBAs to OEMs beginning April 7, with OEM field trials slated for May, and general availability in June. Atto plans single-, dual-, and quad-channel versions of the 8Gbps Celerity HBAs.