Why pay more for a smart NIC?

By John Bass, Network World |  Networking


The network file read test showed the largest improvement in performance, with a 16% increase with a single-CPU server and a 14% increase with a four-CPU server. This degree of performance increase would be seen in server applications where large files are shared between many users. We checked NT's performance monitor to see the difference in CPU utilization on the single-CPU server and the four-CPU server. We saw about 70% less CPU utilization with the Alacritech than with the Intel for both server CPU configurations.

Our random file read/write test showed a 9% increase with a single CPU server and a 4% increase with a four-way server. Our random read/write test applies in real world situations when you have a database server with large transactions and minimal CPU utilization per transaction. Our sequential file read/write test showed about a 3% increase in performance for the single- and four-processor server. Our sequential read/write test applies in real world situations when you are supporting typical file server or Web server transactions. Note the decrease in performance gain as the number of server CPUs increases. This shows that as long as the NIC is not pegged, an increase in CPU horsepower can offset the Alacritech performance gains.

Our database read test showed no noticeable difference in performance. In environments where lots of small database transactions and large CPU-hogging transactions appear on your server at the same time, the Alacritech may not be much help. This is most likely due to the large number of TCP sessions being set up and torn down.

More points to consider

Alacritech provides features needed for a server NIC, including speed and duplex configuration controls, speed and duplex autonegotiation, monitoring instrumentation, diagnostics and port teaming.

The management features for the Alacritech NIC include a number of NT performance monitor objects to determine if the NIC is working properly. There is also a set of NIC diagnostics utilities to troubleshoot NIC hardware problems.

Installation couldn't be easier. Go to the NT network control panel, add the adapter driver from the CD-ROM provided with the NIC, and reboot. After reboot, set the speed and duplex settings in the adapter properties box and then set the IP address in the Alacritech TCP/IP off-load driver in the protocols properties box. Reboot again and you're ready to go. The Alacritech drivers coexist with the Intel drivers without any problems.

The documentation provided with the NIC is done well. The company even provides a methodology to determine if the NIC is giving your server a performance boost.

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