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EtherFabric Pushes Networking Stakes

The world of high-speed networking welcomed a new entrant this week in the form of an Ethernet-based technology called EtherFabric. The technology offers the promise of fast server interconnect speeds coupled with reduced CPU overhead.

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Level 5 Networks claims that its EtherFabric technology will help reduce the cost of high-speed interconnect while improving performance. In terms of network-connection speed, Level 5 claims that EtherFabric offers twice the bandwidth of a conventional 1GB Ethernet (GbE) connection. They also claim that it provides sub-10 micro-second connection latency between different servers application instances.

According to Level 5, EtherFabric enables more than twice the CPU processing power of a conventional Ethernet connection due to lower processing overhead to transfer data over the network. Prices for a two-port EtherFabric Network interface card and associated software range between $295 and $495 based on volume.

Level 5 is positioning EtherFabric against other high-speed interconnect technologies like iWarp and InfiniBand, which Level 5 claims data center managers have declined to adopt due to higher implementation costs. The higher costs are due to infrastructure changes that InfiniBand and iWarp require since they don't use existing Ethernet infrastructures.

InfiniBand is a switched-fabric interconnect technology for high-performance network devices that is common in a number of supercomputer clusters.

Since 1993 InfiniBand has boasted a massive 30GB of bandwidth for its interconnect technology. Support for InfiniBand also recently got a boost thanks to its inclusion in the Linux kernel.

Yet despite InfiniBand advantages, at least one analyst agrees that EtherFiber may pose some degree of threat to Infiniband for certain environments due to the fact that EtherFiber leverages Ethernet infrastructure.

"From the perspective of mid-sized enterprises, any high-speed Networking solution that doesn't require replacing Ethernet networking infrastructure, or to learn new protocols, is going to get attention," John Sloan, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group, told internetnews.com.

"This is why Ethernet/iSCSI SANs are gaining traction with SMEs. Why adopt Fibre Channel infrastructure and go to Fibre Channel school if you can leverage existing Ethernet infrastructure and networking knowledge?"

Whether EtherFabric as technology makes a dent in the market, however, depends on the cost of the EtherFabric cards versus their impact on mission- critical computing and infrastructure consolidation, according to Sloan.

"This technology is clearly targeted at high-performance computer clusters and specific processor-intensive vertical applications," Sloan said. "Cost-conscious, mid-sized enterprises are always sensitive to the relative costs of good enough versus top performance."