New server NIC for Linux boxes makes intriguing claims

Users looking to get more bandwidth out of Linux server connections may want to check out a new server adapter from start-up Level 5.

The firm's EthernetFabric product - available this week for all Linux servers running the 2.4 or 2.6 kernel - is a dual-port Gigabit Ethernet NIC, which adds a new wrinkle into the development of next-generation, high-capacity server interconnect hardware, such as InfiniBand, Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) and iWarp.

Level 5 says the server NIC improves on existing Ethernet NI C architecture by distributing a separate TCP/IP software stack to each application running on a Linux server (as opposed to all applications having to access a single TCP/IP stack embedded in the operating system). Level 5 says its hardware is designed to give each application direct access to the memory space on the NIC hardware, thus eliminating the need for applications to copy data to system memory, which causes higher CPU utilization and introduces latency into server I/O performance.

The TCP/IP stacks are installed during the NIC driver and software installation process, where they are implemented as "LD preload" libraries for each installed application, developers of the technology say.

For server administrators looking into interconnect technology such as InfiniBand or Myrinet, Level 5 says its Ethernet-based technology offers cost advantages, since it works with standard Ethernet LAN switch architecture, and does not require special cabling or proprietary hardware. The vendor also claims the EthernetFabric cards do not require significant changes to the Linux kernel when installed, as opposed to other advanced interconnect technologies that require major changes to the operating system, such as RDMA or iWarp (which runs RDMA or TCP/IP).

At around $500 for a two-port Gigabit card, the Level 5 gear might be worth a test run.

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