Sun to Offer 10G Ethernet Across Its Product Line

The company says its new networking technology, dubbed "Neptune," will increase throughput and take advantage of the company's multithreaded applications.

Sun Microsystems is preparing to offer new 10 Gigabit Ethernet technology across its hardware product line, including its processors, blades, motherboards and switches.

The Santa Clara, Calif., IT company formally announced its 10G networking technology, previously dubbed "Neptune," on Feb. 20. The first product to use this technology is a network adaptor card that uses the newer PCI Express standard—a serial link that enables more to move through fewer lines—will start to ship to customers immediately.

Sun officials first hinted at the new Ethernet technology in January, when they announced that the companys latest SPARC multi-threaded processor, called "Rock," will be released in 2008.

This new Ethernet technology, according to Sun officials, has been specifically designed to take advantage of the multi-threading capabilities found in its own Solaris operating system and its line of UltraSPARC T1 processors, formally known as Niagara.

Unlike conventional processors that can only process a single thread of instruction at once, multi-threading allows the chip to be more flexible. If a process is waiting for memory for one thread, the chip can work on another.

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This CMT (chip multi-threaded architecture) allows the CPU to run multiple threads in parallel, providing high throughout for multithreaded applications, such as Suns Solaris OS.

This 10G Ethernet works by using multiple DMA (direct access memory)—in this case up to 40—channels to reduce the need for CPU resources during I/O processing.

The technology also allows hardware-based early flow classification of workloads, higher performance with parallel threads, I/O partitioning and virtualization, and low CPU utilization and CPU load balancing.

By using this technology with a SPARC-based server, the company is able to deliver four times the performance of its current network interface.

Besides multi-threaded processors, the 10G Ethernet, according to Sun, will improve performance in multicore processors that company uses, such as the dual-core Opteron chip from Advanced Micro Devices.

The new networking interface with also work with servers that will eventually be based on Intel processors as well. After spending years apart, the two companies recently announced a new partnership that allows Sun to expand its line of x86 servers.

Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT Research in Hayward, Calif., said that while most companies can usually get the performance they need from either a 1G bit or 2G bit Ethernet, Sun appears to have bet that 10G bit is ready for mainstream commercial adoption.

"When you see this type of end-to-end deployment of an advanced technology, the company is gambling its ready for widespread commercial adoption," King said. "You are also seeing Sun expanding very aggressively into the commercial market and this could offer potential opportunities in the future."

King added that it would still be some time before Suns investment in this type of networking technology, as well as its adoption of multi-threaded applications, pays off. First, he said, Sun has to convince customers to break with their old habits to adopt this newer technology.

David Caplan, the senior product manager for networking technologies at Sun, said 10G bit technologies will find a market with companies that are looking to reduce the data center costs in ways other than server consolidation.

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"IT administrators are looking to use fewer and fewer servers to save on power and to save on rack space," Caplan said. "With 10 [gigabit] networking, you can save on cabling and that adds up, too."

The first piece of technology to incorporate the 10G bit technology will be in the form of an x8 Express Dual 10 G bit XFP low-profile adapter card based on the PCI Express standard.

The eight "lanes" will allow data to move at 16 gigabits per second on each 10G Ethernet port. Although the new Sun Ethernet technology is available now only in this networking card, company officials said it will begin to appear in modules for servers, as well as the multi-threaded Niagara 2 processors, by the end of the year.

The 10G Ethernet technology will begin to appear on the motherboards of Suns servers by 2008.

The 10G Ethernet networking card has a starting price of $498 per port.

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