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October 11, 2010

Qlogic answers my call for help

Filed under: Networking,Virtualization — Tags: , — Nate @ 8:53 am

THANK YOU QLOGIC. I have been a long time user of Qlogic stuff and like them a lot. If you have been reading this blog for a while you may of noticed earlier in the year I was criticizing the network switch industry (includes my favorite manufacturers as well) for going down the route of trying to “reclaim the network” by working on standards that would move the inter-VM switching traffic out of the host and back into the network switches. I really think the whole concept is really stupid, and a desperate attempt to hold onto what will be a dramatically declining ports market in the coming years. Look no further than my recent post on testing the limits of virtualization.

My answer to the dilemma ? Put a layer 2 hardware switching fabric into the server, less latency, faster performance.

And Qlogic has done just that. I will refrain from using colorful metaphors to describe my glee, but I certainly hope this is a trend going forward.

According to our friends at The Register, Qlogic has released new Converged Network Adapters (CNA) that includes an integrated layer 2 switch for virtual machines.

EMEA Marketing head for QLogic, Henrik Hansen, said: “Within the ASIC we have embedded a layer 2 Ethernet switch [and] can carve up the two physical ports into 4 NIC partitions or NPARs, which can each be assigned to a specific VM. There can be eight of them with dual-port product.”An Ethernet message from one VM to another in the same server goes to the QLogic ASIC and is switched back to the target VM. This is reminiscent of Emulex’ VNIC feature.

From the specs:

  • PCI Express Gen2 x8
  • Dual 10Gbps and quad 1Gbps ports on a single controller
  • Integrated 10GBase-KR and 10GBase-T PHYs
  • Concurrent TCP/IP, FCoE, and iSCSI protocol support with full hardware offload
  • Industry standard SR-IOV and QLogic’s switch-agnostic NIC Partitioning (NPAR)
  • Wake-on-LAN including Magic Packet recognition
  • Common drivers and API’s with existing QLogic NIC, FCoE, and iSCSI products

Side note: I love that they have 10GbaseT too!!

I think the ASIC functionality needs more work as it seems limited to supporting only a couple VMs rather than being a more generic switching fabric but we gotta start somewhere!

The higher end 8200 CNA looks like it has much of the same technology available in the HP FlexFabric (which I know at least part of is already based on Qlogic technology though might not be these specific ASICs I don’t know)

VMflex. With QLogic’s new VMflex technology, one Converged Network Adapter is viewed by the server operating system (OS) as a flexible mix (up to  four per physical port) of standalone NICs, FCoE adapters, and iSCSI adapters, with the ability to allocate guaranteed bandwidth to each virtual adapter.  This unique feature can be switch dependent or switch agnostic— it is not necessary to pair an 8200 Series adapter with any specific 10GbE switch model to enable partitioning.

I would love to see more technical information on the VMFlex and the layer 2 switching fabric, I tried poking around on Qlogic’s site but didn’t come up with anything too useful.

So I say again, thank you Qlogic, and I hope you have started a trend here. I firmly believe that offloading the switching functionality to an ASIC rather than performing it in software is critical, and when you have several hundred VMs running on a single server not wasting your uplink bandwidth to talk between them is just as critical. The functionality of the ASIC need not offer too much, for me I think the main things would be vlan tagging and sFlow, some folks may want QoS as well.

My other request, I don’t know if it is already possible or not is to be able to run a mix of jumbo frames and standard frame sizes on different virtual NICs riding on the same physical network adapter, without configuring everything for jumbo frames, because that causes compatibility issues (especially for anything using UDP!).

The networking industry has it backwards in my opinion, but I can certainly understand the problem they face.

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