Over the past 30 years of Ethernet, we’ve seen at least five major generations. As each generation matures, typically around the third major wave of silicon, we invariably see quad-port adapters emerge on the market. Over the past six months, each of the major 10GbE server adapter providers have offered quad-port cards. In the Four Reasons Why 10GbE NIC Design Matters, I talked about the importance of design in Ethernet controller chips that produce features like VNICs, Physical, and Virtual Functions.
The street price for Solarflare & Intel adapters is now around $650 which is very reasonable. This is typically only 50% higher than the companies more popular dual-port 10GbE offerings. What is more important though is that due to the size of the SFP+ cages all of these cards are ONLY offered as full height adapters. Since every card uses at least a third generation ethernet controller chip, they are all single chip PCIe Gen 3 interface solutions, which are also typically low power. What’s even more important though is the level of sophistication of these adapters. With the rise in popularity of virtualization, we can now see that all four of them have poured substantial silicon resources into supporting this aspect of data center computing.
It should also be noted that multi-chip quad-port 10G solutions due exist from tier-2 Ethernet server adapter vendors: ATTO, Silicom, SmallTree and Interface Masters. All of these products are designed around Intel’s previous generation 82599 Ethernet controller or its low power variant. Most of these products were produced for the video editing market where directly attaching editing workstations to servers is popular. In this industry port density on the video editing servers is the primary concern, with price, and performance trailing. These adapters run anywhere from $1,100 to $1,700, double the price of those in the table above. One vendor even chose to violate the PCIe faceplate form factor spacing standards to produce a line of low-profile cards that only work in a select set of servers. This was done to support an appliance product, but they are also retailing them as Non-Conforming cards, so be careful.
So as you prepare for that future datacenter upgrade, now you know who the key players are in the dense 10G market. Please consider giving Solarflare an opportunity to earn your business. To request a Proof-of-Concept with the new SFN7004F please contact Solarflare.