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May 9, 2012

Myricom, Emulex Take Aim at High Performance Networking

Michael Feldman

Myricom and Emulex are teaming up to bring a series of network offerings to market targeted for high performance applications. The partnership will kick off with Emulex reselling Myricom 10GbE products into selected application domains, but the end game is to go after the high-flying InfiniBand market with products based on Emulex’s Ethernet ASICs and Myricom’s high performance software.

Essentially the collaboration is about leveraging Myricom’s low latency/high bandwidth interconnect smarts with Emulex’s more developed roadmap for Ethernet and its considerably deeper market reach. For Emulex, this is somewhat of a mid-course correction on its plans to bring converged networking to the masses. The company, which started out in the Fibre Channel space, jumped on the converged Ethernet bandwagon at a time when everyone believed datacenter traffic was destined to travel down a single pipe.

According to Shaun Walsh, Emulex’s SVP of Marketing, that level of convergence hasn’t happened yet, except perhaps in microcosm of blade servers, where density and power issues naturally moves them toward consolidated architectures. Some of that convergence will work its way into rack-mounted servers, says Walsh, thanks in part to the new Intel Sandy Bridge E5 Xeons, which are more friendly to virtualized networking designs.

But under this umbrella of convergence, there still exists a need for a variety of network technologies optimized for different types of applications. For example, multimedia streaming, which is heavily dependent on network bandwidth, requires a different type of fabric than that of high frequency trading (HFT), where low latency is the name of the game.

That’s where Myricom comes in. As a networking vendor with deep roots in high performance computing, the company has developed a series of Ethernet cards and software packages aimed at performance-challenged applications of various stripes. Today, Myricom offers three such network acceleration software packages, all under its FastStack moniker: DBL, which delivers ultra-low latency for UDP and TCP (2.9µs and 3.8µs, respectively) primarily for HFT applications; Sniffer10G, which is optimized for maxing out packet rates on a variety of apps (analytics, network security/surveillance, measurement and packet generation, and DDoS defense appliances); and VideoPump, a software stack that speeds data streaming (over 25,000 streams at 3Mb/sec) for render farms and digital content providers.

In the short-term, Emulex will resell existing Myricom 10GbE cards, under Emulex’s OneConnect brand, bundled with the software acceleration packages mentioned above. In this initial phase of the partnership, it’s all based on Myricom technology; Emulex will provide sales and marketing heft only. “The big push for us right now is to provide expanded channels,” says Walsh.

The next phase of the partnership will entail integrated product development, where Emulex supplies its 40GbE network ASIC for the next generation of adapter cards. These products will incorporate RDMA over Ethernet technology, and along with Myricom software, provides a broader entry into the high performance networking market than neither of these companies could manage on its own. Walsh says these 40 Gig products should be ready to roll toward the end of the year, adding that 100GbE products are in the pipeline as well.

According to Walsh, the Emulex-Myricom combo is out to “beat up Mellanox,” reflecting their intention to invade InfiniBand’s high performance turf. That encompasses applications in HPC stronghold of scientific computing as well the those in commercial realm. In the latter case, the need for low latency, high bandwidth, and minimizing CPU utilization are driving more business workloads to behave like high performance applications from a network point of view.

Walsh thinks its upcoming 40 Gig offering will be able to go head-to-head with InfiniBand in this high-end networking niche, especially with the right software stack behind it. In fact, he believe two-thirds or more of that market is destined to end up in the Ethernet column over the next four years.

That assertion is supported by Crehan Research, which projects that revenue from high performance networking is expected to be dominated by 10GbE and 40GbE solutions by 2016. Analysts there see a 13 percent compounded annual growth rate for InfiniBand during the first six years of the decade, while 10GbE and 40GbE revenue is expected to grow by 33 percent and 264 percent, respectively in this same timeframe.

It’s worth noting that Mellanox is attacking the high performance networking space with both its traditional InfiniBand offerings and its newer Ethernet switches and NICs (based on its SwitchX and ConnectX ASICs, respectively). And that company has 40GbE products in the field today.

Whether latency- and bandwidth-sensitive applications actually opt for 40GbE over FDR and EDR InfiniBand is still a question mark and is likely to be a decision made on a case-by-case basis. Walsh maintains that with RDMA over Ethernet, latency is now on par with that of InfiniBand, although the latter’s sub-microsecond values still have an edge for the most demanding applications. For raw bandwidth, InfiniBand looks to maintain its lead for the foreseeable future. The current FDR InfiniBand NICs can deliver 54 Gbps of real data in a four-lane setup, while future EDR adapters will net 100 Gbps. By the time 100GbE arrives, InfiniBand will likely already have moved to HDR, a post-100Gbps data rate that has yet to be nailed down.

But according to Myricom CEO Nan Boden, the majority of applications (outside of some supercomputing codes) aren’t designed to take advantage of those bleeding-edge data pipes. “The bandwidth playing field is becoming more or less level,” she asserts. “I don’t mean on the micro-benchmarks and signaling rates, but on what we’re delivering inside applications. And for that, Ethernet is catching InfiniBand bandwidth with 40 Gig.”

In any case, the much larger Ethernet ecosystem is apt to draw in a greater share of performance-minded users as the capabilities of the two technologies narrow. Also, given the sale of QLogic’s InfiniBand assets to Intel and its uncertain future there, InfiniBand is starting to look like a one-vendor ecosystem based solely on Mellanox hardware and software. That is likely to limit its wider adoption for more commercial applications.

Emulex, of course, has plenty of competition on the Ethernet side, with other vendors vying for customers 10GbE and 40GbE business. Today, the Emulex is number two in overall 10GbE revenue (to Intel) and number one in total port shipments, according Crehan Research and Dell’Oro Group. With Myricom technology in the mix, Walsh says they expect to surpass Intel in revenue by next year.

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