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Demartek Comments on Emulex UCNA Product Announcement

27 October 2009

Today Emulex announced general availability of its OneConnect Universal Converged Network Adapters (UCNA) and OneCommand Manager software. With this announcement, Emulex is making a strong move into the 10Gb Ethernet network adapter marketplace, while continuing its existing Fibre Channel HBA business.

Today’s announcement includes the general availability of three different adapters, a 10GbE NIC with TCP/IP offload, a 10Gb iSCSI adapter with full iSCSI offload and full TCP/IP offload, and a 10Gb converged network adapter (CNA) supporting Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCOE) that includes full TCP/IP offload. These dual-port, PCI Express 2.0 x8 products are available immediately through distributors worldwide, and are expected to be available through major server and storage vendors in the future. The UCNAs have been qualified to run with Microsoft and Linux operating systems, and other environments are expected to be officially supported soon.

With the UCNAs, Emulex is taking a different approach than it has in the Fibre Channel HBA marketplace. By offering three different adapters from the same product family, Emulex hopes to address three different markets, all currently at different places in the product maturity cycle. For those looking for 10GbE adapters with full TCP/IP offload, Emulex offers an adapter at lower cost than their other UCNAs. In addition, I believe that Emulex has correctly identified two additional separate markets, that at least for the short term, will remain separate, 10Gb iSCSI and 10Gb FCoE. For those who use Fibre Channel and are looking at converged networks, the 10Gb FCoE version of the adapter makes sense. But there are many who use iSCSI and have no plans to use Fibre Channel, so for them, the iSCSI version of the adapter makes sense. In the future, Emulex plans to allow the basic 10Gb version of the adapter to be upgraded, via a firmware upgrade, to either the iSCSI or FCoE version of the adapter, or to change the iSCSI “personality” to the FCoE “personality”. The iSCSI and FCoE versions of the adapter available today have a higher price than the basic 10Gb adapter. For those who decide they want either iSCSI or FCoE in the future, an upgrade to iSCSI or FCoE from the basic 10Gb model will be available for an additional charge.

Emulex is also addressing the server virtualization market by including a full TCP/IP offload on each of the products in their UCNA product family. In a purely physical server environment, there are often plenty of CPU cycles available to handle the traditional TCP/IP functions in software. However, in a virtual server environment, where many guest virtual machines are typically running, CPU cycles are a bit more precious, so including a full TCP/IP offload in all of the UCNA products will be appealing to many shops that have embraced server virtualization. By including a full TCP/IP offload in all of their UCNAs, large customers may be able to run more guest virtual machines in a given physical server than without the TCP/IP offload in the adapter.

The big question is customer adoption. The market for 10GbE NICs is beginning to take off. We see 10GbE NIC ports in blade servers now and expect to see 10GbE become more common in servers in the future. The market appetite for 10Gb iSCSI connectivity currently is small, but there seems to be a growing interest, especially in virtualized server environments. The FCoE marketplace is still in its infancy, and many customers are just learning about FCoE and how they might deploy it over time. It appears that Emulex has decided that these are different marketplaces than the traditional Fibre Channel HBA market, and is doing things differently to address these different markets.

We look forward to testing the Emulex adapters in the Demartek lab to see how well they perform, especially with the offload functions in virtualized server environments.