Solarflare Server Adapters Enable Low-Latency App-Centric Networks

As the Software Defined Networking (SDN) conversation matures, talk has turned to the potential of application-centric network paradigms. Irvine, CA-based Solarflare aims to enable faster, smoother, far more customizable application-centric architectures with technologies like its new Flareon server adapters, which Solarflare calls “the world’s first application-flexible server adapters.” In a recent call, Solarflare CEO Russell Stern explained why that matters, and to whom.

AppFlex and the new Flareon server adapters

Solarflare’s new SFN7000 series of 10GbE PCIe 3.0 Flareon server adapters work to support application-centric SDN through AppFlex, which empowers enterprises to selectively deploy on-board applications and remotely turn on server functions on a server-by-server basis, and by exposing APIs to the customer to provide remote enabling of all network services. This will enable greater customization and efficiency in software-defined, application-centric networks. Thanks to new silicon, the adapters also provide incrementally faster clock rate, extremely low latency, and very precise time protocols able to sync all the system clocks of servers to within 200 nanoseconds of each other.

Speeding up the financial sector

An emphasis on speed and precision helps Solarflare maintain a strong presence in the financial sector, from which the vendor drew about a hundred customers to sample the new Flareon server adapters. “9 out of every 10 equity trades in the world depend on Solarflare technology,” Stern told me. Activ Financial’s newest FPGA card relies on Solarflare technology; Solarflare also counts the New York Stock Exchange, NASDAQ, and banks and exchanges in London, Korea, and Japan as members of its userbase.

Solarflare technology, particularly the company’s OpenOnload application acceleration middleware, provides some key features crucial to the financial sector, for which low latency, low jitter, and high message rate are mission-critical. Of course, financial services aren’t the only enterprises that could stand to benefit: “Latency matters everywhere,” Stern said. He explained that OpenOnload attempts to solve the problem by “providing a networking layer to the application that provides a direct communication channel down through our server I/O out to the network,” resulting in the lowest latency and latency jitter possible.

New OEM partnerships with HP and IBM

IBM and HP have made deals with the vendor to put Solarflare technology into OEM hardware. This came about, Stern said, “about nine months ago, when a number of our customers ganged up on IBM and HP and demanded that their servers come standard with Solarflare technology.” HP ProLiant Generation 8 servers now use Solarflare’s 10GbE Onload server adapters to accelerate applications; IBM’s System x servers and Power Systems servers now leverage Solarflare server adapters, too. “We expect more OEM partnerships to be announced soon,” Stern said.

10GbE and 40GbE predictions

Solarflare’s new Flareon server adapters are 10GbE, but Stern and the company are already looking ahead to the next generation of Ethernet—40 gig.

“In our world, the financial sector, there’s been a very high 10GbE adoption rate. Overall, though, I would say that enterprises are at about 30 to 40 percent of servers having 10GbE. I expect that in the next six months, that number will get closer to 65 or 70 percent, but there’s obviously much growth to be made there,” Stern said. That doesn’t strike him as discouraging, however. “It was a very long transition from 1GbE to 10Gbe—10 gig needed a different approach to networking. I don’t think the transition from 10 to 40 will take as long. In fact, he predicted, “I believe you will see a 40GbE infrastructure over the course of the next three to five years.”

When that happens, Solarflare plans to be ready. Though Solarflare hasn’t yet released the Flareon 10GbE server adapters for general availability yet, Stern indicated that the company is working to “bring on the whole ecosystem of drivers and support that need to happen in the market” to support future 40GbE incarnations.

ENP editor Jude ChaoJude Chao is Executive Editor of Enterprise Networking Planet. Follow her on Twitter @judechao.

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