A Bridge to Unified Networking


It's a familiar story: Years of industry consolidation and patchwork networking solutions have led to a mish-mosh of protocols and network topologies throughout the data center. You can't undo it because too many systems are built around specific technologies, and unification onto a single fabric means tossing out a good chunk of that capital investment.

This week, Mellanox announced a new bridging solution aimed at overcoming this problem. The BridgeX gateway utilizes the company's ConnectX adapters and switching technology along with the Virtual Protocol Interconnect to form the central hub in an end-to-end consolidated network that supports full interconnection between native InfiniBand, Ethernet and Fibre Channel networks.

What the company has in mind is, instead of all these various protocols linking directly to servers using dedicated HBAs and switching systems, the BridgeX will aggregate these signals and feed them to the server farm over a single ConnectX device. The BridgeX supports InfiniBand-to-Ethernet, InfiniBand-to-Fibre Chanel and Ethernet-to-Fibre Channel, with the final link to the server available as 40 Gbps InfiniBand, Fibre Channel over InfiniBand (FCoIB), Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) or 10 Gb Ethernet.

According to Taj Ramanujam, senior product manager for Mellanox, the key to preserving legacy infrastructure is the fact that the BridgeX is a stateless device, so no protocols are terminated once they leave their native networks.

"We carry the Fibre Channel frames, for example, over an IB header and ship it to the BridgeX," he told me. "The BridgeX removes the encapsulated frame and ships it on the Fibre Channel wire. Since we are not terminating anything, we're not impacting performance. And since we are not playing with protocols, the network is faster and more efficient."

This kind of native support is a good way to hedge your bets when it comes to laying out a unified network. No matter which protocol wins out-and most money is riding on Ethernet at the moment-the BridgeX will back it while still providing a robust 40 G connection to and from the server.

The system also includes a host of physical layer (PHY) transport protocols, including XAUI, XFI/SFP+, 10GBASE-KR and a range of technologies under the 802.3ap specification, such as KR, KX4 and KX.

"From an integrator's perspective, these are critical for integration into a switch or as part of a blade solution," Taj Ramanujam told me when we spoke.

The base-level BridgeX model will run about $10,000, and the company has already lined up channel support among key systems integrators.