IBM gets ready to embrace enhanced Gigabit Ethernet

IBM gets ready to embrace enhanced Gigabit Ethernet

IBM is soon expected to throw its weight behind Jumbo Frames, a technology that supporters claim more than doubles throughput between servers in Gigabit Ethernet networks.

Jumbo Frames technology, developed by switch and network interface card (NIC) maker Alteon Networks, uses larger-than-standard Ethernet Frames that proponents say are easier for servers to handle on high-speed networks.

Alteon argues that Gigabit Ethernet switches will do companies little good if their servers can't handle the increased traffic flows.

IBM will initially support Jumbo Frames by selling relabelled Alteon ACEnic cards for IBM's RS/6000 servers, possibly by the end of October. While IBM's RS/6000 division declined to comment, sources say IBM is expected to demo the cards this month at NetWorld+Interop in Atlanta.

IBM is also expected to deliver Gigabit Ethernet cards with Jumbo Frames support for its S/390 mainframes and AS/400 mid-range systems.

IBM's Netfinity PC server unit will probably not be far behind in adding Jumbo Frames support to its product line, and IBM's Networking Hardware Division says it has discussed implementing the technology.

While Jumbo Frames is not a standard, the technology has gained the backing of major players such as Microsoft and Silicon Graphics.

The addition of IBM's support could help Alteon's cause whenever the company decides to take its Jumbo Frames specifications to the IEEE for consideration as a standard.

Meanwhile, IBM's support for Jumbo Frames heartened existing users of the technology.

"When a big name makes a decision to support Jumbo Frames, it makes us feel a lot better," says John Savage, computer systems senior engineer at Christopher Newport University in the US.

Savage started testing the Alteon cards in his 1500-seat network a year ago and now uses them for linking servers to one another and to some high-performance desktops.

"The technology has increased the throughput in a big way," he says.

Standard flavours of Ethernet are restricted to data packet sizes of 1518 bytes, whereas Jumbo Frames can handle 9018 bytes at a whack. Users' experiences with Jumbo Frames add support to the claim that with larger frame sizes, a server's CPU can process the same amount of data by handling fewer frames and dealing with fewer interruptions.

Direct connection

Typically, Jumbo Frames NICs are used with Alteon LAN switches, although the NICs can also be used for connecting servers directly. IBM does not plan to resell Alteon switches.

IBM's RS/6000 division has customised the Alteon ACEnic cards for deployment on high-end 32 and 64-bit machines, such as the F-50, H-50, S-70 and SP models. The next release of IBM's AIX operating system, Version 4.3.2, will be tweaked to support Jumbo Frames as well. Sources say that IBM Jumbo Frames tests showed server-to-server traffic throughput of up to 989MB/sec - more than twice the throughput achieved across regular Gigabit Ethernet connections.

"With IBM - one of the largest providers of server hardware - giving Alteon an endorsement, buyers have a much greater probability of adopting Jumbo Frames," Tom Nolte, president of US-based consulting firm CIMI, said.

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