The Future of Network Hardware

Arthur Cole

What does the future hold for host bus adapters (HBAs), network interface cards (NICs) and the rest of the hardware devices that make up what we know as the enterprise network infrastructure? In fact, do these systems have much of a future at all?


Although it's too early to call it a trend, the past few months have seen a trickle of new products and network architectures promising to either eliminate or greatly reduce the number of network devices and/or SAN ports needed to get data from here to there.


Exhibit A is Fusion-io's new ioDrive, a PCIe card that provides either local NAND storage or storage cache either directly on a workstation or at multiple points throughout a network. The cards can be configured with up to 320 GB or storage with access rates on the DRAM level, and allow you to do away with storage switches, HBAs, even RAID controllers and caching appliances.


Exhibit B came into focus last week with 3Leaf's launch of the Dynamic Datacenter initiative. The company aims to use the Intel QuickPath and AMD HyperTransport interconnects to bind clustered servers and storage into pools of data center resources that can be provisioned and decommissioned on the fly. The company says it can increase network flexibility while reducing the number of NICs and HBAs on the network by 85 percent.


Even new systems that rely on traditional network configurations are seeking to reduce the impact that multiple HBAs have on the bottom line, particularly the energy they consume. HP and QLogic had this goal in mind for the StorageWorks 8 Gb Simple SAN Connection platform. The set-up combines an 8 Gbps Fibre Channel switch from HP with Qlogic HBAs in such a way that the HBAs don't need a heatsink or additional airflow to cool them down. And the switch itself draws on 70 watts, even at a full load.


Nobody is saying the HBAs or NICs are about to become dirty words in the enterprise, but as the drive for flexibility and network efficiency kicks into high gear, it will become harder for network admins to avoid asking themselves, "Is all this hardware really necessary?"

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