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By | Ashlee Vance 21st February 2007 23:26

Sun unsheathes mysterious multi-threaded NIC

100-man team working on name

Sun Microsystems has moved to slice and dice I/O operations with a new – albeit unnamed – network interface card (NIC).

The company has started selling the Sun x8 Express Dual 10 Gigabit Ethernet Fiber XFP Low Profile [sic] for close to $1,000 a pop. At the most basic level, you're looking at a dual channel 10GbE NIC that glides into a PCIe 8x slot. But that's not going to excite too many people.

Sun's dollop of special sauce came for creating a multi-threaded NIC designed to handle a wide variety of I/O tasks. All told, the Sun x8 Express Dual 10 Gigabit Ethernet Fiber XFP Low Profile [sic] has 24 unique pipes for different workloads.

According to Sun, customers can divvy up things such as web traffic and email traffic across the NIC. You could, for example, assign 20 threads to standard applications and just one thread to email traffic.

Sun thinks the speed and flexibility of the Sun x8 Express Dual 10 Gigabit Ethernet Fiber XFP Low Profile [sic] make it far superior to purchasing things such as TOE (TCP/IP Offload Engine) cards and other accelerators. Why waste money on a bunch of gear when you can play with different software workloads in one place?

While a separate card today, the Neptune NIC will be built into Sun's upcoming Niagara II-based server boards that ship in the second half of the year. Later, the NIC will also be built into Opteron, Xeon and Rock-based motherboards.

Solaris tends to help the Sun x8 Express Dual 10 Gigabit Ethernet Fiber XFP Low Profile [sic] perform best, although Linux and Windows are supported as well and perform just fine. (Windows officially comes in two months.)

There are more tech specs here.

It's beyond odd that Sun hasn't come up with a proper name for the Sun x8 Express Dual 10 Gigabit Ethernet Fiber XFP Low Profile [sic]. The company claims that it had to rush the product out the door without a real name to meet customer demand.

We find that excuse laughable, especially when you consider that Sun developed the product in-house over the course of a couple years. It had plenty of time to brand this sucker.

Even beyond the missing name, there's something strange about the way Sun launched the NIC. It dragged reporters through one of the least professional conference calls we've ever encountered to discuss the NIC. Then, Sun tried to keep reporters from writing about the product until a specified date even though it was sitting in plain view on the company's website last week.

Sun has vowed to get more professional around the NIC later this year by giving the product a name.

"It is a branding thing that is being worked on right now," said a Sun executive.

Start counting the man years. ®

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