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New HCA modules could fuel adoption of InfiniBand

Kate Evans-Correia

JNI Corp., a Los Angeles-based provider of storage connectivity products, announced Tuesday host channel adapter (HCA) modules based on InfiniBand technology. The new products could accelerate the adoption of InfiniBand technology within the open data center, say analysts.

`Tis the season for InfiniBand plugfests

The InfiniBand Trade Association will be hosting another InfiniBand "plugfest" conference Wednesday and Thursday in Los Angeles and according to industry experts, this plugfest is where the next milestones in the technology will be met.

Jonathan Eunice, principal analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata, notes that InfiniBand is a datacenter-optimized network, and, until now, the focus has been on the data center optimization part of the equation. "Efforts have been focused on getting attributes like bandwidth, latency, system overhead, and silicon-implementability right," he said.

"But as InfiniBand rolls out, a good deal of energy and effort now has to go into getting the network aspect right," Eunice said. "First

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and foremost, that means seamless interoperability, just like with today's IP networks."

Eunice believes InfiniBand products must absolutely, positively work together -- even in complex, heterogeneous, multi-vendor configurations, and a detailed, quality standard is the first step in making that happen.

Plugfests are the next step. They are where "the rubber meets the road" for the first time -- where prototypes and early implementations are first tried with (and against) each other, he said.

Plugfests typically bring out all sorts of unanticipated glitches. "But the good news," Eunice noted, "is that you do this in a controlled environment well before the product gets into customer hands, and you do it at an engineer-to-engineer level, so even competing companies can work together to get the products right.

Alan Earls

"It's not a big deal yet because InfiniBand doesn't really exist," said Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst for The Enterprise Storage Group, an independent industry research firm based in Milford, Mass. "What's significant here is that JNI, which has significant presence in HBAs, recognizes that the next big shift is going to be in the direction of InfiniBand adapters. So, they're going to bridge the InfiniBand and Fibre Channel world."

HCA modules offer a method of quickly getting InfiniBand scalability into the server without the design time and commitment required to place it on the motherboard. InfiniBand HCA modules are similar to Fibre Channel host bus adapters (HBAs) in that they create scalable, extensible connectivity outside the server. With InfiniBand, it extends the input/output (I/O) connectivity normally provided by the bus, usually a PCI bus, that is physically in the server.

Proponents of the technology say these products can create highly scalable, high availability clustered server environments for data centers using an open, released standard at a fraction of the cost of proprietary clustered server environments.

The new JNI InfiniStar IBP-4x02 dual-port 10 GB (HCA) Module plus the companion InfiniStar IBP-1x02 dual-port 2.5GB HCA Module are PCI-to-InfiniBand channel adapters that extend the I/O functions of a server outside its enclosure.

"We're very big on the prospects of InfiniBand, and have been waiting for all the pieces to fall into place," said Duplessie. "The JNI HCA Module will enable OEMs to begin testing and integrating in earnest."

According to JNI's Shaun Walsh, this will be the first time the company has developed and manufactured products for sale in the enterprise data center other than for Fibre Channel connectivity. It represents a significant expansion of JNI?s technology development while remaining focused on its core market of enterprise data center connectivity and expertise in developing host bus adapters and software drivers that interact directly with the host operating system, he said.

The InfiniStar HCA Modules were jointly developed by JNI and Mellanox Technologies, a provider of InfiniBand semiconductor technology.

The JNI InfiniStar IBP-4x02 and InfiniStar IBP-1x02 hardware is expected to be available early next year.Additional software drivers for multiple-host operating systems support should be available in the second half of the year. Pricing varies depending on configuration, drivers and quantity.

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