PARK RIDGE, Ill. Wind River Systems Inc. this week rolled out a software platform aimed at boosting network performance and enabling servers to more easily operate at Gigabit Ethernet speeds.
Known as Tornado for Intelligent Network Acceleration (Tina), the new software platform is said to hold the potential for increased throughput in network servers by off-loading the TCP/IP stack onto embedded processors. If it can deliver as promised, Tina could enable Internet service providers, corporate information technology departments and others to eliminate scores of servers.
"Today, a lot of companies are buying more servers just as a way of handling higher network speeds," said Roger Frey, product marketing manager for server products at Wind River Systems (Alameda, Calif.). "We're offering them a smarter way to do it."
Analysts said that the new technology could be significant, especially as storage-area networks migrate from Fibre Chann el technology to Internet Protocol- and Ethernet-based environments. "Fibre Channel is relatively expensive and complex to deploy, especially in large networks," said Ben Thompson, a senior analyst for Gartner Dataquest (San Jose, Calif.). "People who have large LANs [local-area networks] are looking for ways to take advantage of their existing network infrastructure and optimize it so it's better suited for moving data."
Wind River engineers said that the new technology addresses two key issues now facing companies that implement large networks. The first of the two issues is network speed: While microprocessors double in performance every 18 months, networks boost their speeds by a factor of ten every two to three years. That disparity is causing a bottleneck at the host CPU, they said.
The other problem is that more data is being created, and that data needs more storage sites, they said. "Web sites, databases and e-commerce applications all have huge storage requi rements," Frey said. "And they're getting bigger all the time."
That increase in network traffic reportedly causes many servers to bog down. "If you have a server that's supposed to be running at gigabit speeds, it will typically spend more than 80 percent of its time processing packets of network data," Frey said. "So the business application that it's supposed to be running isn't running, and the users are left hanging."
With Tina, Wind River proposes to solve the problem by endowing "dumb" network interface cards (NICs) with intelligence. By putting a microprocessor on the card and incorporating the proper software, engineers said they can use the intelligent NIC to off-load the TCP/IP processing tasks from the host CPU.
Wind River's system currently supports Intel X-scale processors, but Wind River engineers said they plan to provide support for PowerPC processors and MIPS processors later this year.
Tina software includes Wind River's Tornado for Intelligent I/O 2.0.1, along with the c ompany's TCP/IP stack, which is optimized for high-throughput I/O. It also includes special interface drivers, a Gigabit Ethernet reference platform and an OpenNIC application programming interface.
In recent tests, Wind River engineers said that the intelligent network interface cards dramatically reduced the amount of network processing performed by the host processor. In the transmission mode, the host processor of test systems using so-called "dumb NICs" was 83 percent utilized, while host processors in a Tina-based system were only 35 percent used. Similarly, Tina-based host systems were 66 percent utilized in the receive mode, while the host processor using dumb NICs was 96 percent utilized, leaving just a scant 4 percent available for applications.
Analysts said that the new technology could offer potential in storage-area-network applications where distances between sites is longer, particularly when companies acquire other companies or add new sites. "Most storage-area networks today are ba sed on Fibre Channel, and most of those deployments are just a few kilometers apart," said Thompson of Gartner Dataquest. "But Fibre Channel would be prohibitively expensive to do across distances of several hundred kilometers."
For such applications, Thompson said, many users will eventually turn to an Internet Protocol backbone to connect the network islands. "In a case where you convert over from Fibre Channel to Ethernet protocol, you're going to need a TCP/IP off-load to help boost your performance," he said. "So for longer distances, this technology is going to make sense."