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QLogic Ethernet adapters target 25/100 GbE, focus on flash

QLogic unveils the FastLinQ 45000 line of Ethernet controllers and adapters providing 25/100 GbE of bandwidth, which could help IT reach faster networking for storage -- especially flash.

QLogic Corp.'s new FastLinQ 45000 series Ethernet controllers and adapters pave the way for greater bandwidth options for IT shops that need faster Ethernet-based networking for their storage -- especially flash storage.

The QLogic Ethernet controllers and adapters -- launched on Monday at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain -- enable 10 Gigabit Ethernet, 25 GbE, 40 GbE, 50 GbE  and 100 GbE network connectivity on a single application-specific integrated circuit. The fourth-generation product is based on technology that QLogic acquired from Broadcom in 2014.

QLogic plans to offer FastLinQ 45000 in multiple form factors and media formats, including PCIe adapter cards for target storage systems. The initial product rollout in the first quarter focuses on single-port and dual-port 25 GbE PCI Express adapters, and a single-port 100 GbE PCIe adapter for host servers, which would include direct-attached storage, with hard disk drives and solid-state drives (SSDs).

"As users deploy more SSDs, it's apparent that networks need to be faster," said Dan Conde, an analyst covering enterprise networking technologies at Enterprise Strategy Group Inc., in Milford Mass. "When disks were slow, you could get by with slower networks. With faster access via SSDs, or with new network-intensive workloads, there is a greater demand for faster networks."

Tom Spencer, senior director of product marketing for QLogic Ethernet controller products, said the company benchmarked Hadoop workloads a few years ago, and the testing showed the spinning hard drives were the greatest bottleneck, whether using storage appliances or compute nodes. He said faster SSDs have since reduced the latency and shifted the bottleneck back to the networking side.

"A lot of the storage solutions now have many hard drives, and because the SSDs have a lot lower power, they can put more of them into an appliance, shelf or storage server," Spencer said. "Because they have more of them, we need to have bigger pipes coming into the appliance. And due to the low-latency nature of an SSD, we need low latency getting the data to the device."

Upgrade path to 25/50/100 GbE

The new line of QLogic Ethernet controllers and adapters gives users an upgrade path to the latest 25/50/100 GbE networking technology, as well as the old 10/40 GbE track. The older 40 GbE design is based on four 10 Gbps channels, or lanes. But standards bodies improved the efficiency with 100 GbE, using four lanes of 25 Gbps, rather than the original plan for 10 lanes of 10 Gbps. That means fewer switches and cables, reduced power requirements and lower costs for enterprise users, as they move beyond 25 GbE.

The FastLinQ 45000 supports CPU offload of iSCSI, Fibre Channel over Ethernet, iSCSI Extensions for Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) and nonvolatile memory express over fabric.  For users with low-latency needs, hardware-offload protocol support also extends to RDMA over Converged Ethernet and Internet Wide Area RDMA Protocol.

Initial release of QLogic Ethernet adapters

The initial release of the new QLogic Ethernet adapters features the 25 GbE single-port QL45211 and dual-port QL45212 PCIe adapter cards, with small form-factor pluggable (SFP) transceivers capable of 28 Gbps (SFP28), and the 100 GbE single-port QL45611 PCIe adapter cards, with quad SFP28 (QSFP) transceivers. Spencer said QLogic expects to release 50 GbE products next year, after the specifications are worked out.

Seamus Crehan, president of Crehan Research Inc., predicted the ramp up to 25/50/100 GbE will be faster than the uptake of 10 GbE. He said users had to pay a bandwidth premium to shift from 1 GbE to 10 GbE. But he said he expects a bandwidth price discount right from the start with 25 GbE, and it's easier to scale to higher bandwidth than it was going from 10 GbE to 40 GbE.

Spencer said hyperscale cloud providers would be the first to use the 25/50/100 GbE technologies with direct-attached storage. He said storage vendors have products in the works to support the 25/50/100 GbE track on the target side, but he doesn't expect most to start releasing them until after this year. Storage vendors generally include target-based adapters with the sales of their products. QLogic provides storage vendors with tools to assist in the development of drivers, according to Spencer.

List prices are $565 for QLogic's single-port 25 GbE QL45211, and $735 for the dual-port QL45212. The 100 GbE QL45611 lists at $1,385.

The FastLinQ 45000 adapters will compete with similar products from Mellanox and Broadcom, which was acquired by Avago Technologies. Crehan said additional competitors could include Intel, Cisco, Chelsio Communications and Solarflare.

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