Addressing the Bottleneck
The bottleneck is an issue many hardware makers are trying to address, with varying degrees of success. Generally speaking, the first generation of a new networking technology is not capable of "driving line rates," said Carl Wilson, technical marketing engineer at Intel, in Hillsboro, Ore. And when making the transition to a faster speed, it can take as long as a year for drivers to be updated to accommodate the faster line rates, said Apparent Networks Daniels.Most driver performance issues come up in the auto-negotiation phase of a connection, which determines the speed of the link and whether it will operate at full duplex or half duplex. "The No. 1 issue I found was half-/full-duplex conflict," said Fred Klassen, Apparent Networks co-founder and vice president of network technologies. Intels Wilson agreed. "Thats primarily because the 10/100 auto-negotiation [specification] was not well-defined. There are a lot of areas open for interpretation," he said. Beyond the common issues, a host of more obscure problems can occur that are harder to isolate. For example, Klassen, who has specialized in troubleshooting hard-to-solve networking problems for 26 years, found that a particular driver level for Broadcom Corp.s NICs would drop packets or run slowly when linked to a Cisco Systems Inc. or Alcatel switch, but "if they are plugged into a 3Com [Corp.] switch or crossover cable, its the fastest card out there," he said. To read about HPs 10-Gigabit Ethernet solution, click here. But with the increasing use of VOIP (voice over IP) and the "convergence of voice, video and data, that is where itll start getting dicey," said CNTs Richard. "Also, with the advent of Gigabit Ethernet, it very well could be [the same problem over again]. If anybody thats going to deploy any one of these in a meaningful way is looking for performance, Id highly recommend that they test them thoroughly before they invest. If we hadnt, wed have wasted several thousand dollars." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.
"The common wisdom is that every time a manufacturer puts out a new driver, you should upgrade to it, although we never have any hard proof that it solves any problems," said Kevin Baradet, an eWEEK Corporate Partner and CTO for the S.C. Johnson School of Management at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y.