Consolidating on Convergence


Now that the era of network convergence is upon us, it's almost become unfashionable for a networking vendor to sport just one protocol.

One after the other, companies that once specialized in Ethernet or Fibre Channel are broadening their horizons to be on the winning end of the new network architecture.

The latest to jump ship is Voltaire, which just announced that it will unveil a new line of 10 GbE switches to add to its already hefty portfolio of InfiniBand devices. Apparently, the company has determined that, despite the fact that InfiniBand is already pushing toward a 40 Gbps format, Ethernet is likely to be the protocol-of-choice for the vast majority of enterprises. While details are sketchy, Voltaire is hinting that it will try to replace the multi-layered topology of Ethernet with the flatter approach of InfiniBand to hopefully devise a system that is both faster and more scalable. Products are expected by this fall.

Voltaire's move came on the heels of last week's announcement by QLogic that it was buying Ethernet specialist NetXen, bringing in a wide range of 10 GbE systems and advanced protocol-processing technology. QLogic already had a small 10 GbE presence in the market, along with systems covering Fibre Channel, FCoE, InfiniBand and iSCSI, not to mention a new line of converged network adapters (CNAs), but NetXen brings in a number of OEM contracts and a fairly robust distribution channel.

In the meantime, QLogic's chief competitor in the converged networking arena, Emulex, is busy trying to maintain its independence in an increasingly consolidated market. The company has rejected a $764 million offer from Broadcom as too low in light of its potential CNA revenues, and even went so far as to accuse Broadcom directors of being "opportunistic" in an era of depressed stock prices.

That could be a dangerous game for Emulex because, according to this article on CIO Today, the company is already playing catch-up with QLogic in the CNA race. QLogic is currently shipping a single-chip version of its 8100 series CNA, while Emulex is not expected to launch a single-chip version until the fall. Emulex, of course, counters that its OneConnect system provides for Fibre Channel, iSCSI and RDMA offloading, easing pressure on the CPU.

As all manner of networks converges onto a single fabric, expect to see more of this kind of consolidation. It used to be that the various networking protocols had to battle it out for supremacy by appealing to the broadest possible customer base. Now, it seems that is no longer a concern as each protocol can find its own niche within the Ethernet universe.

But that doesn't mean the hard sell is over. Going forward, it won't be a question of which technology is superior as much as which vendor will make the stronger partner as networking assumes a more dominant role in the enterprise.