Market disruptions tend to happen regularly in the tech industry.
We started with cell phones that were just cordless phones, and the market was dominated by companies like Motorola and Nokia, then PALM and Research In Motion. Then Microsoft swung the market aggressively towards smartphones and Apple stepped in. Now, this market is largely dominated by Apple, Google and Samsung. Massive disruptions not only change products, they often also change the vendors who sell them.
I met Rockport Networks recently, and although their technology is focused on high performance computers and supercomputers, it has the potential to affect the network as we know it by even surpassing the performance of InfiniBand in this segment of the market.
Let’s talk about Rockport Networks and its technology:
Rockport Networks has a new CEO, Phil Harris, who cut his teeth at Cisco and Intel. Traditional network topologies typically consist of layers of switches connecting computing nodes and users, each introducing latency and together creating what can be a rather complicated mess of hard-to-manage infrastructure elements.
In this structure, one delayed data packet can negatively impact multiple server nodes on the network, as associated processes wait for these delayed packets and bottlenecks to arrive. This is called tail latency, and it’s particularly problematic with high performance computing (HPC) and especially with supercomputers.
Although Rockport Networks is not switchless, it effectively removes switches from the top of racks as redundant and instead places the logic in the NICs, removing one or more layers of network complexity, which can reduce latency in the process.
Switch hardware failures can become much less catastrophic, and the more distributed nature of this approach allows for what appears to be a high level of redundancy and resiliency. The solution does not appear to require unique code, appears as a standard Ethernet environment for servers and users, and is optical-based to help improve data throughput and reliability.
One part of the solution that is particularly interesting is an artificial intelligence (AI)-based network manager that can optimize performance on the fly and autonomously handle a growing number of problems at machine speed. System administrators receive information-rich alerts that allow them to quickly identify and correct problems. Given the wealth of information provided, this lays the foundation for stronger automated administration in the future.
At the heart of this solution is a network card with its own operating system and intelligence. This Rockport Network Operating System (rNOS) creates a self-discovering and self-optimizing solution that also configures itself based on its analysis of the network and can self-fix a growing range of problems.
This card also handles traffic routing and helps ensure minimum latency and maximum data traffic throughput. While traditional network topologies often have traffic issues where data packets and frames are backed up behind large frames or because of a delayed data packet, Rockport data packets and frames are split into pieces smaller, flits, which can be interleaved with each other, effectively helping to eliminate bottlenecks found in more traditional networks. Network cards are where the processing power resides.
Overall benefits can include energy, heat and cooling savings, reduced network space and weight, and fewer cables.
We are late for a major technological change, especially in networks. One of the new companies to watch is Rockport Networks, which has a new approach to networking that not only aggressively uses optical cabling, but aims to reduce the complexity, footprint and operational costs of running the site. . They do this by redesigning the network topology and reducing the typical complexity surrounding most networking projects.
While you’ll only see Rockport networks in the HPC space, and more often critical supercomputers, like the TACC Frontera SupercomputerI think his technology has much broader implications that could disrupt the network as we know it.
In short, Rockport Networks has become an interesting small business to watch.