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Intel gobbles NetEffect for Ethernet smarts

The aftertaste of InfiniBand

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Chip maker Intel today said that it paid $8m to acquire the assets of NetEffect, a maker of Ethernet networking adapters and ASICs. NetEffect was founded a decade ago to create InfiniBand networking technology and a business based on it, but this didn't work out.

The irony is that InfiniBand, a switched fabric protocol, was promoted heavily by Intel. Intel and IBM co-developed the technology, along with Hewlett-Packard (and the formerly independent Compaq), Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems. The idea behind InfiniBand was to use a single type of fabric for servers, networks, and peripherals, replacing Fibre Channel for storage area networks and Ethernet for linking servers and users.

InfiniBand has found a home in supercomputer labs because of its high bandwidth and low latency, and IBM's 12X links for its Power Systems I/O are a variant of InfiniBand. But the InfiniBand protocol has come up against the Metcalf Barrier - any protocol that tries to compete against Ethernet eventually loses.

When NetEffect was founded in 1998, it was actually called Banderacom, which created InfiniBand adapters as well as a 16-port InfiniBand switch. When InfiniBand sputtered in the enterprise, the company hunkered down and came back after a $24m recapitalization in early 2004 as NetEffect, applying its InfiniBand expertise to do fast Ethernet instead.

Up until today, NetEffect sold Gigabit Ethernet and 10 Gigabit Ethernet adapters for rack servers, compact mezzanine adapters in Gigabit and 10 GE speeds for IBM and HP blade servers, and a 10 GB ASIC for companies that want to make their own adapters or embed support into their own systems.

The company also sells software to support the iWARP protocol, which implements some of the ideas of InfiniBand atop Ethernet and TCP. The most significant is Remote Direct Memory Access, or RDMA, over TCP, which allows data to move to or be accessed by the memory of one machine directly by another one without asking permission from the operating systems and thereby degrading performance).

By shelling out that $8m, Intel is getting all the intellectual property behind this Ethernet technology. Intel is also taking on 30 of the company's 60 employees, most of them engineers.

Intel has not yet said what its plans are for the NetEffect products, but the acquisition is being tucked into its LAN Access Division. The division's general manager, Tom Swinford, said in a statement that the focus would be on 10 GE connectivity needs for server virtualization, server clustering, and the convergence of network and storage traffic. ®

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