Feature

New life for InfiniBand

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So, if IB brings major benefits to storage and servers, why hasn't it been more widely deployed outside HPC environments? InfiniBand's wider acceptance has been stymied by political, technical and business issues.

The first strike against IB came early when the technology was vastly overhyped and didn't have the working products to back it up and provide much-needed credibility. Early interest quickly fled to other technologies like FC. The next hit came when technological leaders like Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. abandoned their active support for IB, choosing to wait for a market to develop. "When two major vendors backed away from InfiniBand, it instantly became a niche technology, and then it looked like it was going to die," says Arun Taneja, founder, president and consulting analyst at the Taneja Group, Hopkinton, MA.

IB has also languished from a lack of software support. Operating systems needed drivers and applications had to be tweaked for parallel processing. In most cases, this meant getting drivers directly from IB device vendors, dealing with interoperability issues and then tackling any application changes in-house.

But many of the early knocks against IB are beginning to be resolved: The Linux 2.6.11 kernel includes native support for IB devices, and the Open InfiniBand Alliance is working to develop a standard driver stack for Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003. "It's not 100% there yet with Microsoft, but it's on

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the right track," says Thad Omura, member of the InfiniBand Trade Association (IBTA) and vice president of product marketing at Mellanox Technologies Inc. in Santa Clara, CA. Application developers are also recognizing the growing appeal of IB, and are updating their products accordingly (such as Oracle's recent 10g release).

The lack of an "I've got to have it" business need has also slowed acceptance of IB storage in the corporate data center. A significant business need (such as graphics rendering) drives the implementation of an IB cluster which, in turn, provides the incentive to consider IB storage.

"There's no compelling reason that it's going to become the mainstream technology, other than in high-performance compute clustering," says Marc Staimer, president of Dragon Slayer Consulting, Beaverton, OR. "I don't see it replacing Fibre Channel or Ethernet."

This was first published in April 2006

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