Alacritech, HP boost NAS performance

By Lisa Coleman

A testing lab recently proved a significant increase in network-attached storage (NAS) performance using Alacritech's "integrated storage network interface card" (IS-NIC)--a derivative of the TCP/IP offload engine--and an unreleased Microsoft Windows .NET operating system paired with Hewlett-Packard's StorageWorks E7000 NAS device.

Compaq, now HP, commissioned eTesting Labs to test its next-generation configuration to confirm that high performance can be achieved with industry-standard products such as the Windows-based E7000, which is also a SAN-NAS bridge.

Alacritech's 1000x1 single-port Gigabit Ethernet Server and Storage Accelerator Card offloads TCP/IP processing, as well as iSCSI protocol processing, from the host processor. In turn, the system processor is freed up for application processing while boosting network performance and increasing system throughput.

The E7000 is available now, but it will be re-released with Windows .NET support when Microsoft makes the product available. Microsoft anticipates a .NET server release later this year but could not confirm a specific release date. The Alacritech card is available now for $999.

Today, users can boost performance by as much as 40% by coupling an E7000 with the Alacritech card, according to HP officials.

The test configurations included the E7000 NAS appliance with two Emulex host bus adapters (HBAs) connected to a Compaq MA8000 SAN with six StorageWorks 4314R cabinets. Each cabinet contained 14 36GB drives for a total of 3TB. The NAS system included two Alacritech cards.

eTesting Labs used the NetBench 7.0.2 benchmark tool--which measures how well a file server handles I/O requests from 32-bit Windows clients--to test a single-node NAS configuration. Test results showed an average peak throughput of 1,392.599Mbps for the RAID 0 configuration, and 1,378.014Mbps for a RAID 5 configuration. A clustered NAS configuration with a RAID 0 disk array produced an average peak throughput of 2,620.940Mbps.

Using the Iometer benchmark--which is an I/O workload generator and performance analysis tool--the single-node test system scored 1,683.544Mbps with 2,6936.74 I/Os per second using 8KB transfers. With 64KB transfer request sizes, the system achieved an average peak throughput of 2,045.016Mbps with 4,090.026 I/Os per second.

Based on these results, Mark Nagaitis, director of HP's NAS division, claims that the next-generation E7000 with the Alacritech card and Microsoft's .NET will be faster than high-end NAS servers from vendors such as Network Appliance.

Network Appliance panned the NetBench and Iometer benchmarks because they are not "realistic" configurations, according to Keith Brown, Network Appliance's director of technology and strategy. Brown believes the benchmarks were engineered to disregard disks and concentrate on RAM. However, he says that the benchmarks do prove that Alacritech's card works.

"It's a good benchmark for Alacritech because it shows that their board has decent throughput. [But the benchmark's] got nothing to do with what happens to data once it has been brought into the storage system by the card," Brown adds.

Network Appliance uses the Unix-based Spec SFS benchmark for testing its devices. Brown believes that Spec SFS more accurately exercises disk subsystems and measures throughput and response times.

This article was originally published on May 22, 2002