More admins are taking 10 Gbps right down to the desktop level

S2io Inc.'s Xframe PCI-X adapter for 10-Gbps Ethernet is optimized for SGI's memory architecture and works with servers such as those in the Altix line.

Some network backbones have had 10-Gbps Ethernet for a couple of years, but a growing number of users want to take that speed to their servers and workstations.

'In our business, the sooner the better,' said Alan Powers, high-end-computing lead at NASA Ames' Advanced Supercomputing Division at Moffett Field, Calif.

The division does climate modeling and other advanced visualization, moving terabytes of data from archives to computers in a process that can take days.

A new, 10-Gbps Ethernet adapter for SGI servers, workstations, advanced graphics systems and storage products could significantly shorten that time.

The Xframe PCI-X adapter from S2io Inc. of Cupertino, Calif., uses a high-speed version of the Peripheral Component Interconnect standard. It can work over existing Ethernets as a systems interconnector or to bring backbone bandwidth directly to a single system.

The adapter's drivers are optimized for SGI's memory architecture.

10-Gbps Ethernet has until now been used to aggregate traffic on the backbone, said Andy Fenselau, SGI's high-performance computing products director. 'But the data sets for a lot of our customers are increasingly so big, they need to move data in and out of systems' at those rates, he said.

The current answer is multiple Gigabit Ethernet streams or proprietary interconnects. But multiple streams increase networking overhead. A standard Ethernet product would let users move data over their existing network infrastructures.

NASA's supercomputing shop plans to evaluate the Xframe adapter primarily for archiving and visualization applications such as ocean climate modeling. Each 10-year run requires about 2T of data, Powers said.

'Our archiving machine is separate from the visualization machine,' he said. 'For visualization, we move multiple terabytes, and that usually takes one or two days. With [the Xframe], we would be talking about hours.'

NASA now uses four bonded Gigabit Ethernet streams for data transfers. 'The problem with that is you have to do more,' Powers said. A 10-Gbps interconnect would give three to four times as much throughput after network overhead is factored in, he said.

Xframe cards can be aggregated for bigger pipes, and demand for those pipes already exists, said Ron Renwick, SGI networking product manager.

SGI originally expected most customers would use one or two cards in a system, he said, 'and then one of them called up and asked, 'Can I do 20?' '

The company has not tested an aggregation of that many cards. PCI-X bus limitations would have to be overcome, he said, but he has no doubt that will happen.

The 10-Gbps adapter is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, Renwick said. 'It's a big leap, but it's the next step.'

An Xframe adapter costs $7,000 for SGI's Altix servers and superclusters, Origin servers, Tezro visual workstations, Onyx visualization systems and InfiniteStorage network-attached storage products.

About the Author

William Jackson is freelance writer and the author of the CyberEye blog.

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