IP over ethernet touted

As the debate continues to rage over the viability of a single IP network vs. a combined IP/Fibre Channel network, server network technology company Giganet yesterday announced the industry's first VI (virtual interface) intended to double IP traffic over Ethernet networks.

A hardware solution in the form of a standard Ethernet networking card, the Giganet VI makes it possible for applications to bypass the operating system and send data directly to other devices located in the same data center, such as NAS (network attached storage), according to Gareth Taube, vice president of marketing at Giganet, based in Concord, Mass.

In the same manner that a DSL runs dual transmissions over the same wire, the Giganet VI solution connects node-for-node to a company's existing Ethernet, differentiating VI messages from the IP messages. The operation is embedded in a standard TCP/IP-based frame and runs over the same wire and through the same switches.

The result, according to Giganet, is a leveraging of existing network infrastructure investments, and a doubling in application throughput while using one-fifth of the computing resources required had the data been sent via the operating system.

"You involve the operating system during the setup time, but once you have it set up, you are free to move data from machine to machine without involving the operating system," explained Dave Wells, the director of new market development at Giganet.

"When you set up a connection between computers using VI, you give the application the ability to write directly to the networking hardware without involving the operating system. You call a routine that says I want to send this data, and the networking hardware does the job of moving the data rather than the operating system," Wells said.

Steve Duplessie, a senior analyst at the Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Storage Group, thinks the timing of the Giganet announcement against the current industry backdrop positions the VI technology for rapid adoption.

"I think it's a giant leap," Duplessie said. "The benchmarks that Giganet can show offer data transfer rates at near wired speed -- as fast as the wire is rated -- while only consuming 10 percent of the CPU cycles to do it."

"What it implies is if the adoption of VI occurs, companies will be able to use their existing IP infrastructure, including everything from the switches to the hubs, all the things they are already familiar with, and be able to build extremely high performance data networks," Duplessie said. "Quite frankly, the news blew my mind."

Duplessie stressed that Monday's Giganet VI announcement is "only the first step" as not all applications are VI-ready.

"But the reason VI will be adopted by all the application writers is that once you write an application in VI, it's portable to almost any platform, and all the real databases are already VI-enabled," Duplessie said, who listed Oracle, IBM's DB2, and Microsoft's SQL Server as just a few of the VI-readied data base environments.

"And the big killer applications like the SAPs and PeopleSofts of the world each have VI initiatives already going, and this means there is a viable alternative to Fibre Channel," said Duplessie.

Giganet's Taube agrees that Monday's announcement could spell the beginning of the end for mixed IP/Fibre Channel networks, relieving network administrators of the hassles of managing two networks.

"Yes, we think that data centre components will be connected by a single IP network and this is the first step in that kind of technology," said Taube.

Fibre Channel networks carry what's called "block data" from servers to storage devices within relatively close proximity of one another. IP networks carry Internet messaging traffic in the form of "packet data" into and across the network. If deployed properly, an all-IP network would provide users with the ability to store and access data from all over the world, allowing systems such as SANs (storage area networks) to extend well beyond the current 100-Kilometer capabilities of Fibre Channel architectures.

Many large hardware vendors have begun selling VI network components, according to Taube. Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Computer, as well as Japanese computer manufacturer CTC each re-sell Giganet VI technology.

The Giganet VI Ethernet networking cards will ship with a price tag similar to that of a standard Ethernet card, but will not be available until the first quarter of 2001, according to Taube.

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