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Small Tree boosts bandwidth for Apple G4 and G5 servers

Eau Claire, Wis. - To complement the two- and four-port Ethernet cards it began offering in January, Small Tree Communications has released software for Apple G4 and G4 servers that combines Ethernet ports on a computer into one interface with more bandwidth.

The company is the first to provide multiport Gigabit Ethernet cards for Apple Xserve and Power Mac platforms. In March, it expanded from the G5 to the G4, Windows and Linux. President Corky Seeber has designs on a market niche that other enterprise-server providers such as Intel, IBM and Apple itself have not filled.

"We intend to grow Apple's server market space with our product," Seeber said.

The company could face competition, however, if the cards find a large market. Apple provides a basic driver that others could adapt. The biggest barrier, Seeber said, is writing the software for OS X that unlocks the cards' multiport potential.

"It is not really a question of the network cards themselves, since we can already load up servers with multiple network cards," said Paul Barford, an assistant professor of computer sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "It is a question of how the operating system is configured to operate with the cards."
IEEE 802.3ad link aggregation, a way of bonding Ethernet ports together, combines multiple physical connections into one interface with one IP address. The software spreads network traffic out across the ports so none is overloaded, and it can use the redundant connections to keep the network running if one port or cable fails. All a network application sees is the single "virtual" port. The load balancing and fail safes are handled behind the scenes.

Small Tree is targeting the system at Web, digital video and other file servers, which can benefit from the increased bandwidth. Supercomputers made by networking computers together in clusters could also benefit.

"Small Tree's 802.3ad Link Aggregation product provides the ability to improve digital video networking capabilities while utilizing existing infrastructure," said Gary Holladay, president of Studio Network Solutions, a digital storage technology company.

Besides potential developers of Ethernet cards for Apple platforms, another of Small Tree's competitors in the enterprise network market is Infiniband, a technology that combines Ethernet connections with other types of networks, including proprietary ones. Infiniband, like Small Tree's cross-platform multiport cards, is designed to make diverse networks operate in harmony.

One of the ways the company is hitting back is with jumbo frames, an Ethernet technology that increases the size of the "frames" used to send data over Ethernet connections, resulting in faster data transfer.

"Our product is the first that supports jumbo frames for the apple," Seeber said.

Small Tree's next planned offering is a 10-gigabit Ethernet card using optical fiber interfaces -- another first, the company says, for Apple platforms.

Jason Stitt is a staff writer for the Wisconsin Technology Network and can be reached at

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