Several months ago, our flagship 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) server adapters underwent a big change. We retired the Intel® Ethernet 10 Gigabit Server Adapter family name and replaced it with Intel® Ethernet 10 Gigabit Converged Network Adapter family. The adapters themselves didn’t change a bit; they’re the same reliable products that have led us to the top spot among 10GbE adapter suppliers.
Why did we rename such a successful product line? Quite simply, Converged Network Adapter (CNA) is a much more accurate description of our 10GbE adapters and the features they offer. As IT organizations upgrade their data center networks, we want to make sure they know that these Intel Ethernet adapters meet not only their Ethernet networking needs, but also their converged networking needs.
For you non-networking folks, a CNA is a 10GbE adapter that supports standard LAN traffic as well as Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) traffic and iSCSI traffic. Traditional LANs and Fibre Channel (FC) storage area networks (SANs) use completely separate network infrastructures, requiring storage-specific network adapters, switches, and cabling. Converged or unified networks allow LAN and SAN traffic to use or even share a 10GbE fabric, greatly simplifying the infrastructure. CNAs connect servers to these converged networks and eliminate the need for separate, dedicated storage network adapters.
So with all of these great benefits, why didn’t call our adapters CNAs from the start? Answering that one requires a history lesson.
Work on the FCoE standard began in 2007, and the first CNAs appeared several months later. For these early designs, the traditional storage adapter vendors modified their FC host bus adapter (HBA) designs to include the Intel® 82598 10 Gigabit Ethernet Controller alongside their proprietary FC processors. With the FCoE standard still in draft form and a thin ecosystem, these first-generation adapters were little more than proof of concept vehicles.
Meanwhile, we at Intel were working to enable FCoE on the Intel 82598 10 Gigabit Ethernet Controller – the same controller that provided the Ethernet functionality for those early CNAs. We realized, however, that enabling FCoE on that controller (and adapters based on it) would require releasing our own FCoE software stack. Introducing yet another proprietary FCoE solution into the market would have made life harder for IT, and that’s the last thing we wanted to do. So we launched our new adapters as 10GbE adapters, not CNAs, and set about making FCoE easier for IT to deploy.
In 2008, Intel founded the Open FCoE project and released our FCoE initiator code to the open source community. Our goal was to get the Open FCoE initiator integrated into the Linux* kernel and help accelerate the adoption of FCoE. Any adapter vendor could use that native support to develop a CNA, giving customers more hardware options and allowing them to use a common set of OS-based management tools. The industry had gone through a similar process with the successful integration of iSCSI, another storage protocol, in every major OS and hypervisor.
In March 2009, after modifications from the Linux community, the Open FCoE initiator was integrated into version 2.6.29 of the Linux kernel and soon found its way into major distributions, including Red Hat and SLES.
In early 2011, we announced that our newest 10 Gigabit Controller, the Intel® 82599 10 Gigabit Ethernet Controller and the integrated FCoE initiators in Linux and Windows had been qualified by EMC, Cisco, and NetApp. The Intel® Ethernet Server Adapter X520 family, which is powered by the Intel 82599 10 Gigabit Ethernet Controller, was included in this announcement.
And in August 2011, VMware announced Open FCoE integration as part of the vSphere 5.0 launch. With that launch, the Intel Ethernet Server Adapter X520 and Intel 82599 10 Gigabit Ethernet Controller had FCoE support in every major operating system and hypervisor. We felt it was important for customers to understand that Intel Ethernet 10 Gigabit Server Adapters were full CNAs, so later that year, we decided to rename them, and the Intel Ethernet Converged Network Adapter family was born.
Our 10GbE CNAs are the industry’s top-selling 10GbE adapters. Earlier this year, we expanded the family by adding the Intel® Ethernet Converged Network Adapter X540, our fourth-generation 10GBASE-T adapter. Through our Open FCoE efforts, we have given the industry another option for enabling FCoE – an option that doesn’t depend on proprietary hardware and software, can use standard OS-based tools, and scales with advancements in server architectures.
It has been a long journey getting to this point, but sometimes it takes time to do things right.
If you’d like to learn more about the advantages of Open-FCoE-based solutions, check out this blog post on Open FCoE in VMware vSphere.
 Crehan Research, Server-class Adapter and LOM, 2Q12