New Platforms Tout Embedded Networking

Arthur Cole

That the enterprise is evolving from a static collection of systems and software to a more flexible, dynamic, even organic entity is no big surprise. What's interesting is the way the new generations of server and storage platforms are adapting to this new reality through embedded virtual I/O technologies.


Servers used to communicate with other servers in the rack, and storage devices to others in the pool, but to connect anywhere else in the network required network cards, HBAs and other add-ons. This, along with bandwidth constraints, was a major force behind the silo-based architectures that have dominated the industry for so long.


These days, many enterprise devices are rolling off the shelf with 10 gigabit Ethernet, Fibre Channel or even Infiniband installed, with major server and virtualization platforms preloaded with all the necessary drivers.


Citrix is the latest vendor to see the benefits of integrated networking by tapping both the Unified Wire 10G NIC from Chelsio and 10G adapters from Mellanox for the new XenServer 4.1. By including Chelsio's UW drivers in the release, Citrix gains the ability to accelerate compute and storage network protocols such as iSCSI and iWarp. They also support Microsoft's TCP Chimney stack that allows Windows systems and applications to offload network processing. The Mellanox devices offer offload for Fibre Channel over Ethernet.


Mellanox is also on board, literally, with SuperMicro's new line of servers. SuperMicro has selected the ConnectX line of single-chip 10 GbE controllers for LAN on Motherboard (LON) applications for systems aimed at clustered databases, Web infrastructure and virtualization solutions. Not only does the deal eliminate the need for external controllers, but volume deployment is simplified for IT managers through a more efficient I/O adapter sourcing process.


It seems Microsoft has been convinced of the benefits of networking as well. According to this article in Information Week, the company is using what it calls a "synthetic device" in the Hyper-V platform that will know how to use all the Windows drivers to access adapters and other I/O systems. The company says this technique offers a more direct I/O path than standard emulators that require substantial overhead for messaging and instruction processing.


If you using Hyper-V as part of Windows Server 2008, you'll also benefit from the platform's embedded drivers for Neterion's and Intel's 10 GbE adapters.


With virtualization putting more pressure on network infrastructures, it is very likely that future platforms that don't have embedded networking capabilities will be non-starters for most enterprise applications. The dynamic nature of the modern workflow environment requires new systems to be integrated quickly and easily into the wider network, without a lot of fumbling around with set-up procedures and driver installation.

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