Broadcom Places Big Bet on Ethernet Storage

Broadcom is placing a big bet on Ethernet-based storage, with new Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) controllers that combine a TCP/IP offload engine (TOE), iSCSI host bus adapter, and remote direct memory access (RDMA) technology.

The Irvine, Calif.-based company claims its NetXtreme II Gigabit Ethernet Controllers are the first controllers to simultaneously perform storage networking, high-performance clustering, accelerated data networking and remote system management.

A standard server equipped with current Ethernet controllers can’t efficiently run network, storage, and cluster traffic simultaneously over Ethernet, according to Broadcom, since it takes a significant amount of the CPU’s processing power to operate the network at the full line rate. Broadcom says its new controllers provide the performance needed to run these network functions over a single converged fabric on server platforms.

Broadcom calls the controllers a “converged NIC,” or C-NIC, combining the functions of four separate networks into one multi-function network, including TOE, iSCSI, RDMA, and in-band management pass-through technology.

A TCP/IP offload engine shifts the Ethernet protocol processing overhead from the host CPU to the network controller, freeing up CPU and memory resources and allowing increased network throughput. The iSCSI functionality creates low-cost networked storage capabilities over an existing GbE infrastructure (network cabling, switches, and routers).

RDMA technology enables high-performance server clustering and eliminates the burden of excessive memory copies when communicating between servers. The embedded in-band management pass-through technology allows for remote control of a server over a single network connection.

Tony Asaro of the Enterprise Storage Group’s ESG Lab says Broadcom’s C-NIC “is an important step toward the proliferation of IP and Ethernet as a major storage networking technology. Customers are looking for a universal infrastructure that is multi-functional and demands the convergence of all kinds of traffic leveraging what is already in place today.”

“It is not just about communications data, iSCSI packets, clustering servers, or the management of networked devices,” Asaro continues. “It is about all of those things sharing the same infrastructure. That is what Broadcom brings to the table with C-NIC.”

“Combining both communications and management processing on a single controller allows OEM vendors to offer products that can be aligned with the specific requirements of customer application environments at very affordable price points,” says John Webster, senior analyst and partner at Data Mobility Group.

The BCM5706 is the first device in the NetXtreme II family. The implementation is optimized for high-density rack and blade server LAN-on-motherboard (LOM) and network interface card (NIC) applications, and lets customers use existing board layouts to upgrade their systems from earlier generations of Broadcom controllers, such as the widely deployed BCM5703.

Using the NTTTCP benchmark, Broadcom says preliminary testing demonstrated that the NetXtreme II controller, running Microsoft TCP Chimney software, improved CPU utilization on a current server by as much as five times over an existing GbE controller. Broadcom says the TCP Chimney implementation was the first single-chip Ethernet controller to provide TCP/IP offload processing without external memory.

The BCM5706 costs $35 each in high-volume quantities, comparable to existing GbE controllers. The product is currently sampling and is expected to ramp to volume production in the fourth quarter.

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Paul Shread
Paul Shread
eSecurity Editor Paul Shread has covered nearly every aspect of enterprise technology in his 20+ years in IT journalism, including an award-winning series on software-defined data centers. He wrote a column on small business technology for, and covered financial markets for 10 years, from the dot-com boom and bust to the 2007-2009 financial crisis. He holds a market analyst certification.
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