Level 5 networks this month began shipping EtherFabric, an Ethernet-based high-performance interconnect aimed at enterprise data centres and high performance computing clusters. The company reckoned that EtherFabric improves CPU efficiency, reduces latency, and boosts throughput between servers in transaction-orientated or compute-intensive situations, while maintaining backward compatibility with existing Ethernet infrastructure.

Level 5 CEO Dan Karr claimed that, compared to conventional Ethernet, EtherFabric more than doubles CPU efficiency, resulting in twice the resources for crunching numbers or serving clients. The company's website shows benchmark graphs generated using Netperf that purport to show reduced latency, and increased bandwidth and CPU utilisation.

Karr touted a number of advantages over competing technologies InfiniBand and iWarp, as well as proprietary cluster interconnects from Myrinet and Quadrics. Unlike these alternatives, EtherFabric does not require new protocols, changes to applications, or upgrading at both ends of the connection. Its compatibility with TCP/IP and Ethernet makes it easier to implement and less costly.

The company claimed that the technology is entirely compatible with existing systems, hardware and software, and introduces no new cables or switches.

Burton Group research director David Passmore agreed that native Ethernet support is key for enterprise customers. “If you want to do load balancing or simply support large numbers of TCP/IP Web connections, being able to support native Ethernet is essential,” he said.