New life for InfiniBand


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A sampler of InfiniBand storage
DataDirect Networks Inc. 2A9500 modular RAID storage networking system. Each module in this expandable system supports up to 1.3TB of capacity across dual-port 10Gb/sec InfiniBand host channels.

Isilon Systems Inc. IQ line. Isilon's storage products offer InfiniBand intracluster communication with a maximum capacity of 250TB across 42 nodes using a single unified file system.

Silicon Graphics Inc. InfiniteStorage TP9700 system. This storage platform with its four 10Gb/sec InfiniBand ports supports

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an aggregate bandwidth of 1,600MB/sec for up to 90TB across as many as 224 Fibre Channel or serial ATA disks.

Terrascale Technologies Inc. Storage Bricks. Storage units offer 650GB to 3.5TB of formatted usable capacity for Linux clusters across native InfiniBand connections, and can be combined and treated as a single virtual storage unit up to 18 exabytes.

Xiranet Communications GmbH Xas500ib InfiniBand Storage system. Expandable rack-mounted storage modules each provide up to 7.5TB of storage on SATA drives, and support a range of RAID levels for data protection.

Yotta Yotta Inc. NetStorager GSX 2400. Rack-mounted storage subsystems designed for data pooling/replication between remote geographic sites.

The benefits of InfiniBand storage
Although clustered computing is still viewed as an IT niche, several vendors are betting that the niche will continue to grow. Consequently, vendors like DataDirect Networks Inc., Engenio Information Technologies Inc., Isilon Systems Inc., Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI), Terrascale Technologies Inc. and others are actively developing storage systems for InfiniBand clusters (see "A sampler of InfiniBand storage"). Their offerings run the gamut from large single-box systems to smaller, more modular platforms that can be easily upgraded to follow cluster growth. Aside from the obvious user benefits of high bandwidth and low latency, IB storage vendors generally tout the key advantages of simplicity, cost and scalability.

Simplicity means fewer ports and less cabling. A typical network may need multiple infrastructures for communication and storage, but IB can handle all of the necessary network traffic over the same fabric. In addition, it would take five aggregated 2Gb/sec FC SAN ports to match the performance of a single 10Gb/sec IB port. Storage across IB means fewer ports and corresponding cables. This reduces cost, and eases the commitment of labor needed to configure and maintain the simpler IB infrastructure. Native IB storage also eliminates the cost and bottleneck of an IB-to-FC or IB-to-Ethernet gateway.

The ability to scale is another important concern in clustered computing. Scaling a traditional FC SAN for higher capacity (while maintaining performance) is problematic at best. IB storage, on the other hand, is almost "plug and play" in its ability to expand storage nodes and capacity across a single file system.

The "channel" nature of IB is also a powerful benefit; for example, rather than aggregating four 2.5Gb/sec IB channels into one 10Gb/sec stream, a user can opt to assign channels to specific tasks--ensuring the performance of mission-critical apps. Instead of devoting an entire IB stream for backup, one or more channels can be allocated for very specific backup tasks, guaranteeing a minimum level of performance for each task.

This was first published in April 2006

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