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Expand server networking with OCP adapters

Peter Krass's picture

by Peter Krass on 10/20/2022
Blog Category: devices

Would your server customers be interested in an alternative to PCIe-based network adapters with the following benefits:

> Greater flexibility

> Alternatives during a time of tight supply

> Support from top vendors

> Server slots freed up

> Avoid paying for network connections they don’t use

Well, this alternative is indeed available. It’s based on the OCP NIC 3.0 specification, an open-source design created by the Open Compute Project. It expands server networking beyond the PCIe form factor.

If you’re unfamiliar with OCP, it’s a collaborative community founded in 2011 to apply the benefits of open source to hardware. Today’s OCP’s members include many top brands, among them Asus, Cisco, HPE, Intel, Meta, Microsoft and Nvidia.

Meta’s morphosis

OCP’s work began when Meta (then Facebook) set out to design a highly efficient data center that could handle super-high scale at super-low cost. The result was a data center in Pineville, Ore., that was nearly 40% more energy-efficient to build and almost 25% less costly to run than Facebook’s previous facilities.

A later project, launched in 2012, set out to open more space in servers by offering an alternative to large PCIe form-factor components. The team opted to focus on Ethernet adapters, since basically all servers have at least one such adapter with multiple ports.

Another advantage of the standard is that it frees server makers from having to solder a LAN connection to their server motherboards, known as LAN on motherboard, or LOM for short. By using an OCP adapter, you’re giving customers choice and flexibility by making the LOM interchangeable.

OCP 3.0 devices can also eliminate what’s essentially a tax on customers—a tax your customers previously had to pay even when they didn’t use a LOM connection.

Plug-and-play networking

The current OCP 3.0 spec supports both small and large form-factor card sizes. The small cards can support up to 16 PCIe lanes, while the large ones can handle up to 32. OCP-compliant cards from any supplier can be used in servers from any vendor, although some customization may be available.

Installation is simplified, too. The OCP cards are plug-and-play. They can be hot-plugged into a server without having to either open the server chassis or power down the system.

A pull tab on the front lets you easily remove the card, too. For setups that require more security, the pull tabs can be replaced with a tamper-proof faceplate. Then the card can be removed only by opening the server, thereby protecting against theft.

The spec also includes a thermal-management solution with temperature and power-requirements reporting. There’s also onboard management and monitoring, allowing any 3.0-compliant server to monitor any 3.0-compliant card.

Intel OCP

Intel, an OCP member, also supports OCP 3.0 with several of its 700 and 800 Series network adapters. These include the dual- and single-port E810-CQDA2 and CQDA1, dual-port E810-XXVDA2, and quad-port E810-XXVDA4.

In addition, OCP-compliant Intel Network Adapters are now available for servers offered by leading hardware vendors. These include Dell, HPE and Lenovo.

Tell your data-center customers about Intel and OCP. They’ll be glad you did.

Get more details on Intel’s adapters, including technical specifications:

> Open Compute Project (OCP)

> OCP NIC 3.0 design specification

> Intel video: Open Compute Project NIC 3.0 is the Next Step in Server Networking

          > Intel Ethernet Network Adapter technical specs:

> E810-XXVDA2 for OCP 3.0 (25GbE)

> E810-XXVDA4 for OCP 3.0 (1/10/25GbE)

> E810-CQDA2 for OCP 3.0 (100GbE)

> E810-CQDA1 for OCP 3.0 (10/25/50/100GbE)



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