New HP Ethernet Module Aimed at Eliminating Network Switches

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2008-11-17

New HP Ethernet Module Aimed at Eliminating Network Switches

You've probably heard of virtual machine sprawl, the phenomenon data center managers experience when the number of VMs simply gets out of control in an enterprise system.

Well, network switches may also be starting to get out of control, too.
Hewlett-Packard Nov. 17 introduced its Virtual Connect Flex-10 Ethernet module, a storage and server networking hardware/software product that is designed to cut down on the number of network switches needed in an enterprise system.

HP claims that Virtual Connect Flex-10 is the industry's first interconnect that can allocate the bandwidth of a 10 Gigabit Ethernet network port across four NIC (network interface card) connections. It also enables users to assign different bandwidth requirements to each connection.

Read eWEEK Labs' review of HP's ProLiant DL185 G5 storage server here.

Currently, IT managers must purchase costly network switches in either 1GB or 10GB Ethernet increments to meet the increased bandwidth required for additional virtual server workloads.

By increasing bandwidth flexibility using the Flex-10 module, the need for additional dedicated switches is eliminated. HP claims users deploying virtual machines and utilizing Virtual Connect Flex-10 can cut their network equipment costs in half, over time, as a result.

"This [Flex-10 launch] is a watershed kind of event in server networking," Mark Potter, vice president and general manager of HP BladeSystems, told me.

"Customers are having to put six to eight network connectors [NICs] in every server in a virtualized environment to connect all the different services they need," Potter said. "They have a choice of a 1GB or a 10GB-there's nothing in between. Typically, they need at least 1GB per connection, but 10GB is too much [to pay] for any one of them."

Can You Have Too Much Throughput?

Can't have too much throughput -- or can you?

The Virtual Connect Flex-10 Ethernet module allows throughput to be throttled any way necessary to serve these needs.

"It's true that you really can't have too much throughput," Potter said, "and if it were free, it would be fine. But 10GB at this point is still costly, and if you don't actually need that kind of speed, then you're overprovisioning."

Virtual Connect Flex-10 also saves 240 watts of power per HP BladeSystem enclosure, or 3,150 kilowatt hours per year, compared with existing networking technologies, Potter said.

The recently announced HP ProLiant BL495c virtualization blade includes built-in Virtual Connect Flex-10 functionality that enables the BL495c to support as many as 24 NIC connections.

HP also unveiled the rack-based ProLiant DL385 G5p virtualization server, which can support more virtual machines in less space, and with lower power requirements, than previous versions. Using Advanced Micro Devices' new Opteron 2300 Series Quad-Core processors, it contains up to 6 terabytes of internal storage.

"With Flex-10 modules and BL495c blades, each physical server gets eight 'physical' NICs (up to 24 with an expansion cards), which fan out to 384 'physical' connections coming out of a full bank of switch modules," James Staten of Forrester Research wrote in his blog.

"You, of course, can blow out this number with virtual NICs per VM, as not every VM will need its own physical NICs. And each of these connections can replace an FC port in an Ethernet storage configuration.

"If you want to pack a ton of VMs into a tiny package without sacrificing I/O performance, this is an intriguing way to go. Even if you don't use Flex-10 for storage, the density benefits here are worth considering," Staten wrote.

U.S list pricing is as follows: The HP Virtual Connect Flex-10 Ethernet module costs  $12,199, the HP NC532m Flex-10 NIC is $699, the HP Virtual Connect 4GB FC module is $9,499, and the HP ProLiant DL385 G5p is $2,259.

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