Alacritech adapters off-load IP, iSCSI work

New systems from Alacritech Inc. for off-loading network processing from servers will allow users to off-load two different networking functions and turn on one or both through software, the company announced Monday.

Alacritech, based in San Jose, California, brought out a new suite of hardware and software products to handle network protocol processing tasks such as TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) and iSCSI (Internet Small Computer System Interface) requests that typically are dealt with by server software.

The cards introduced Monday, the Alacritech 1000x1 Copper Gigabit Adapter and the Alacritech 1000x1F Fiber Gigabit Adapter, are designed for use on general-purpose servers, video servers, NAS (network attached storage) appliances and database servers.

With its latest NICs (network interface cards), Alacritech has made it possible for customers to activate off-loading functions for TCP/IP and for iSCSI via its SLICware software.

"Every one of these new boards is TOE (TCP/IP off-load engine) ready or iSCSI-ready," said Barry Haaser, vice president of marketing at Alacritech. "All you have to do is enable the functions in the card with SLICware."

The choice of whether to turn on these functions at the time of purchase or as a customer sees the need should make Alacritech products more attractive to cost-conscious users, said Arun Taneja, a senior analyst with the Enterprise Storage Group Inc., in Milford, Massachusetts.

Alacritech's technology for reducing the processing load on server and storage systems serves a similar role to that of graphics cards in home computers. The graphics cards can churn through specific types of data, freeing up the main processor for basic computing tasks. The same concept is employed by Alacritech in its TOE cards, which carry out TCP/IP and iSCSI processes, leaving the server to crunch application data.

Network off-load technology is particularly helpful with iSCSI storage systems, which are just starting to emerge, industry analysts believe. Any platform that uses iSCSI will need to process and store large chunks of data that travel along Ethernet connections. Off-loading some of the protocol stack onto a NIC should make the iSCSI systems perform much faster.

Alacritech had been producing cards with a high level of TOE functionality already built into them but has now come out with the more flexible NICs to give customers more choice, according to Taneja.

"The first product they brought out was this combination thing that had everything in it," he said. "What they were finding out was that this was too expensive for the majority of the market."

Customers can now buy the basic NIC from Alacritech and turn on the acceleration features they need with the company's SLICware Network Acceleration software. For those customers just looking to speed up iSCSI storage hardware, Alacritech will offer its SLICware iSCSI Acceleration software, Haaser said.

Alacritech also unveiled its third-generation TOE ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit), dubbed the 1000x1 Internet Protocol Processor (IPP). This Gigabit Ethernet chip can be used by OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) in systems such as blade servers, IP storage switches and NAS appliances, Haaser said.

Alacritech's new 1000x1 Copper Gigabit Adapter and 1000x1F Fiber Gigabit Adapter are available now starting at US$375. The SLICware iSCSI Acceleration software is available for $249 and the SLICware Network Acceleration software is available for $649.

The 1000x1 IPP ASIC is also available for $80 for volume purchases.

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