New life for InfiniBand


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Buyers beware
The early IB storage news may be encouraging, but analysts warn users to be skeptical of some vendor claims. Interoperability between IB hardware and software can still be problematic. "There's still some settling of the specifications," says Brian Garrett, technical director at Enterprise Strategy Group's Labs in Milford, MA. "As with early Fibre Channel solutions, you want to be talking to the storage system vendor when picking products to ensure that it all works together," he says.

Cost benefits, as with all total cost of ownership claims, should be evaluated carefully. While IB "silicon" may indeed be cost competitive--lowering the overall price per port--IB storage systems still require disks and other components, so the cost of IB storage systems may not be much lower than FC on a system basis. "Most of the cost in that [storage] box is the drives, and the drives are common to both [IB and FC] sides," says Taneja of the Taneja Group.

Finally, be cautious of scalability claims. IB systems may offer easier interconnects for storage platforms, but maintaining storage performance as capacity grows may present some limitations. A well-balanced IB storage array should deliver good performance up to the amount of disks it can hold. "But then, where's my scalability beyond that?" says Taneja. "I have to add another box, which is exactly the same thing I do with Fibre Channel."

What's ahead?
Make no mistake,

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InfiniBand is here and data centers are deploying the technology, albeit slowly, for specialized apps. And IB will be pulled into enterprise data centers by their gradual adoption of clustered computing. But just how much and how fast IB (and IB storage) will grow is a matter of debate. Standards are still not firm; drivers are still pending for Windows and vendors fear that another six to nine months of delay may open the door for 10GbE. "If the software stability issues aren't addressed, then [10] Gigabit Ethernet will become more competitive despite the pricing disadvantage," says Gautham Sastri, founder, president and CEO at Terrascale Technologies Inc. in Montreal.

The bottom line: IB won't displace Ethernet networks and FC SAN installations in the enterprise. Gateways will connect islands of IB with the rest of the corporate network. And while gateway bottlenecks may be unavoidable, it will allow legacy storage to be shared within the IB domain and let the network access native IB storage.

Even Taneja, arguably one of the most vocal proponents of IB storage, acknowledges that there will be no sudden, complete shift in enterprise network storage. Says Taneja: "It [IB storage] doesn't have the same urgency as the drive to bring InfiniBand to clustered computing."

This was first published in April 2006

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