Converging on the Converged Network Adapter

Arthur Cole

Enterprises are eager to converge their disparate storage networking platforms onto a single infrastructure, and hardware manufacturers are eager to oblige.

The only thing still up in the air is who has the most robust converged network adapter (CNA) to get the job done.

Ideally, the CNA should offer a number of features, including a single-chip design and the ability to offload networking tasks from the main CPU. So far, QLogic has been making hay with its 8100 series device, gathering design wins from EMC, NetApp and most recently IBM.

But now that Emulex has come out of the gate with its OneConnect unit, which the company dubs a "Universal" CNA (UCNA), expect to see the conversion from multiple SANs to single-network storage kick into high gear.

Emulex touts several key advantages in its OneConnect architecture. For one, it says that full hardware-based offload support for TCP/IP, iSCSI and FCoE lets Ethernet users in particular upgrade to 10 GbE right away, and then add iSCSI or FCoE capability at their leisure without having to completely reconfigure their management systems. This is a back-end way for Emulex, traditionally a Fibre Channel company, to get in good with the Ethernet crowd.

Emulex also presents the OneConnect CNA as one component of an overall integrated architecture that also includes the OneComand Manager, the newest extension of the HBAnywhere system, and is linked to the company's Virtual Fabric approach that expands I/O capabilities to virtual machines inside physical servers.

Still, it's design wins with both server and storage manufacturers that make or break a networking technology, and on that score Emulex has some catching up to do. The fact that QLogic was quicker to market with its CNA certainly counts in its favor, but it's hard to imagine that IBM and others did not have access to the OneConnect solution before they announced their integration decisions. So that leaves many to wonder what was it about Emulex that didn't measure up, particularly since IBM in particular has been a steady partner for some time.

Perhaps in consolation, IBM did decide to add Emulex's 10 GbE NICs and Fibre Channel HBAs to the Power Systems line, which should provide a steady revenue stream in the short term, but misses out on the major consolidation efforts that are likely to get under way in the coming year. It's a bit like a car salesman losing a buyer to the guy across the street, but then getting the oil change and wheel alignment business on the back end.

For Emulex, the fact that the convergence drive is just getting under way means two things: that it still has time to make up for lost ground, and that it offers competitors a grand opportunity to gain market share at its expense.

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