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Emulex Buys Giganet

Some SAN observers have suggested a battle between Fibre Channel and Gigabit Ethernet as the standard in storage connectivity, but an acquisition may put a bump in the playing field. Fibre Channel vendor Emulex Corp. will purchase the privately held networking vendor Giganet Inc.

“Why is Emulex buying Gigabit?” asks Paul Folino, president and CEO of Emulex. His answer: “To extend our Fibre Channel leadership in Host Bus Adapters into Gigabit Ethernet.” Folino says Emulex is the leader in Fibre Channel HBA revenue, and wants to similarly own the Gigabit Ethernet (GigE) storage market.

Giganet has developed Virtual Interface (VI) technology for storage applications. VI allows servers to transfer data directly from RAM across a network to another device. Giganet’s implementation of VI also performs IP stack processing on HBA chips, offloading work from the CPU, improving server performance. Although VI has seen its first deployments in server cluster connectivity, it offers possibilities in storage networkings.

While most of the SAN world is based on Fiber Channel networking, NAS devices nearly always use IP networks, creating a need for fast Ethernet technologies. GigE is frequently used for connecting servers, especially clustered servers to NAS devices.

Some NAS vendors are beginning to blur the line between NAS and SAN. Two companies, Network Appliance Corp. and EMC Corp. are beginning to enable Fibre Channel on their high-end NAS devices, allow the devices to be used as a SAN gateway; servers connect to the NAS devices, while the NAS devices connect to tape libraries and other storage devices. Network Appliance has already committed to using Giganet’s VI implementation on its line of NAS devices.

Two developments may have spurred the Emulex/Giganet deal. First, standards bodies recently announced that 10 Gbps Fibre Channel and 10 GigE will share the same connector type and some switching protocols. Although Emulex and Giganet may seem like star-crossed lovers today, when 10 Gbps connectivity hits the market Fibre Channel and Ethernet will be blurred in ground level implementations.

Second,  iSCSI and other SCSI-over-Ethernet standards are under consideration by standards bodies and vendors. Fibre Channel’s primary attraction today is that it allows block-level transmission of SCSI data and commands over a network. Fibre Channel is limited by distance and latency, however, so is not appropriate for many networks. SCSI-over-Ethernet offers the promise of moving storage data efficiently over reliable networks.

Giganet has been aggressive in developing SCSI-over-Ethernet, which may have been a purchase point for Emulex. “Giganet has worked to provide SCSI-over-IP for some time, and will continue to do so,” says David R. Follet, CTO at Giganet.

Emulex may also be anxious about the future of Fibre Channel. “Emuxlex will be able to offer its Fibre Channel OEMs a migration path to Gigabit Ethernet,” says Folino, in regard to the Giganet purchase.

Emulex swapped 4 million shares of its stock for the privately held Giganet, The deal is valued at approximately $645 million. The purchase should be completed April 1, 2001, pending stockholder approval. - Christopher McConnell

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.