Alacritech NICs open larger server pipes

Alacritech this week released eight new server network interface cards that combine multi-port Gigabit Ethernet connectivity with a TCP/IP offload chip for speeding application processing.

The multi-port Gigabit NICs could be used for servers running applications that are overloading a 10/100M bit/sec or Gigabit Ethernet connection, or for linking a sever to several network segments for greater availability, users say. TCP/IP offloading also can increase performance on chugging servers by moving the network software stack off of a server operating system and into hardware.

The SEN2000 TNIC series includes models with one to four Gigabit Ethernet ports on one PCI-X or PCI Express card. The product family includes single- and dual-port PCI-X cards, and three-port and four-port cards with PCI Express interfaces. Each card is available with fiber- or copper-based ports. Servers with a PCI-X bus can move data at 4.26G byte/sec (or 34G bit/sec) from a NIC to the system's CPU. The newer PCI Express allows for 16G byte/sec.

The Alacritech cards also provide iSCSI capabilities, with support for Microsoft's iSCSI Software Initiator. This lets servers run iSCSI storage traffic over Ethernet connections instead of more costly Fibre Channel links, Alacritech says.

Alacritech's single- and dual-port 10/100M bit/sec NICs with TCP/IP have been running for several years on servers at Erlanger Health System, a healthcare network in Chattanooga, Tenn. The multi-port Gigabit NICs with TCP/IP offload are in trials in the organization.

"The cards basically extend the life of our servers," says John Haltom, Network Director at Erlanger Health System. Alacritech NICs are installed in servers running multiple back-office applications, such as e-mail and database software. Offloading the network stack to the Alacritech cards lets Erlanger load more applications on a machine without overtaxing the CPU. "You definitely see improved processor utilization," by offloading TCP/IP.

The multi-port cards let Erlanger servers have multiple network paths to the firm's core of Nortel Passport switches. These switches run a Nortel technology called Split Multi-Link Trunking, which lets a server have multiple paths open to it and lets the server fail over a connection in case one of the switch links goes down, Haltom says.

Offloading network processing can give data center administrators a better idea of how an application is performing, one analyst says. This can help users deploy applications on servers more efficiently, and possibly save money on server hardware and operating system licensing costs.

"You can get much more predicable measurement of an application's performance by offloading" TCP/IP to a NIC or hardware-based processor, says Dianne McAdam//stet//, a senior analyst and partner at Data Mobility Group.

Alacritech's products compete with TCP/IP and multi-port NIC gear from several other vendors, including Adaptec, Chelsio Communications, Intel and Xtensa.

The SEN2000 NICs that are available now are the single-port copper NIC, which costs US$1,000, and the $1,500 dual-port copper NIC. The three- and four-port NICs and fiber versions of the SEN2000 series will be available later in the second quarter, with pricing to be released.

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