3G C-NICs Address Mass Migration to 10GbE

The long awaited mass migration from 1GbE to 10GbE technology is underway as IT organizations extend 10GbE outwards from the core of the data center to the edge. That translates to a need for a new generation of NICs that can deliver 10GbE performance today and converged network connectivity tomorrow.

The days of application-specific servers are waning as dense compute nodes become the norm. New server deployments typically include multi-processor, multi-core servers heavily loaded with guest operating systems, virtual machines and business applications. The result is an aggregation of server I/O that has data center managers convinced they need fat 10GbE network pipes on their servers. According to a recent IT Brand Pulse end-user survey, 52% of the respondents cited performance as the primary issue with their 1GbE networks.

Priority number one for data center managers has been to simply make the speed jump from 1GbE to 10GbE because it solves the performance problem. And data center managers perceive the best 10GbE switches are those backwards compatible with their installed 1GbE scripts and management tools. About 88% of server network ports in the data center are Ethernet. So it’s not surprising that your typical short-handed data center networking team is focused on maintaining the reliability and performance of their Ethernet NIC platform.

A future priority for data center managers will be to converge LANs and Fibre Channel SANs on 10GbE. Over 70% of end-users surveyed said they were either too busy to investigate convergence right now or were not planning to converge their networks. LAN and SAN convergence is happening today, but it’s deployments of LANs and “iSCSI” SANs that are making it happen. In 2010, less than 100,000 FCoE enabled host network ports will be deployed, while over 1 million iSCSI host ports will be installed.

So how does a data center manager keep 88% of her server network ports humming, plus accommodate LAN and SAN convergence in the future? I believe the answer is 3G Converged NICs (3G C-NICs). 3G C-NICs are the latest generation of NICs with 10GbE performance and familiar old RJ45 connectors, plus support for Data Center Bridging, a name for the suite of four protocols that form the new, lossless Ethernet underpinning converged networks. This feature set makes 3G C-NICs compatible with existing 1GbE NIC drivers, scripts and management tools, allowing the migration from 1GbE to 10GbE LANs and iSCSI SANs to be as painless as possible. Support for Data Center Bridging, including the FCoE protocol, also enables 3G C-NICs to address convergence in the future by serving as a solid platform for connecting servers to Fibre Channel SANs.

One example of a 3G C-NIC is the Broadcom 957711. The BRCM 957711 dual-port 3G C-NIC is the world’s first 10GbE Converged NIC with iSCSI HBA offload to preserve server processor resources, and a 10GBASE-T physical interface (phy) for connection with low-cost RJ45 connectors and existing copper cabling. This is an important milestone in the development of the converged networking market. Over time, the presence of both technologies must be pervasive in order for convergence on 10 gigabit Ethernet to reach its potential. Being first-to-market with iSCSI offload on a 10GBASE-T NIC platform also positions Broadcom for continued leadership in server connectivity for iSCSI SANs.

The bottom line is IT organizations are equipping a large percentage of new servers with 10GbE network connections by addressing the needs of their LAN, which means extending their existing NIC and LOM platform. 3G C-NICs will play an important role in the mass migration because they plug-and-play with existing infrastructure today and offer the capability to support converged networking in the future.

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posted by: Frank Berry

Frank Berry, InfoStor Guest Blogger
by Frank Berry
InfoStor Guest Blogger

Frank Berry is CEO and senior analyst, unified networking practice, at IT Brand Pulse. He is a 30-year veteran of the IT industry, and has held senior executive positions at storage vendors such as QLogic and Quantum.