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InfiniBand to offset HBA market, but not anytime soon

Future interconnect technologies are predicted to reduce the need for host bus adapters. Will HBA vendors find different ways to ride out the InfiniBand wave?

The advent of InfiniBand is on the horizon, but will the next-generation interconnect technology be a harbinger of trouble or a bundle of opportunity for today's host bus adapter vendors?

Independent storage expert and author Marc Farley said that there is no question that InfiniBand changes the scene for HBA vendors, but there will always be a need for an interface between the InfiniBand network and the SAN.

Farley said HBA vendors have the option of making other interconnect devices that bridge the gap between Fibre Channel and InfiniBand.

Not surprisingly, vendors have a different viewpoint.

"Adapter companies are going to have to either become silicon companies or systems companies," said Chuck Foley, InfiniCon Systems Inc., which makes an InfiniBand-based shared I/O system.

Foley said that five years from now network interface cards (NICs) and HBAs, which are Fibre Channel I/O adapters that connect host I/O bus to a computer's memory system, will go the way of the Dodo.

But the HBA vendors disagree.

QLogic Corp. said it is "certainly seeing Fibre Channel becoming integrated directly into systems," but that it is unlikely to spell doom for the HBA.

If one looks closely at the storage market it becomes evident that some HBA vendors have made moves that will help prepare them for the onset of future interconnect technologies.

In 2000, QLogic made strides to shift its focus toward system vendors and InfiniBand and in 2001, fellow HBA maker Adaptec Inc., bought iSCSI developer Platys Communications Inc., some say for its silicon architecture.

InfiniBand is an architecture and specification for data flow between processors and I/O devices that promises greater bandwidth and almost unlimited expandability in tomorrow's computer systems. In the next few years, InfiniBand is expected to gradually replace the existing Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) shared-bus approach used in most of today's personal computers and servers, according to online technical dictionary

InfiniBand offers a throughput of up to 2.5GB/sec and support for up to 64,000 addressable devices, the architecture also promises increased reliability, better sharing of data between clustered processors, and built-in security.

The issue, said Chris Wildermuth, director of strategic marketing for JNI Corp., is not the threat of InfiniBand displacing Fibre Channel. The impact, he said, will be felt in the server market.

"When clustered [InfiniBand] servers begin to displace SMP servers -- an event not likely to happen within the next 3 years -- then HBAs will begin to suffer," said Wildermuth.

Wildermuth said that InfiniBand-enabled clustered servers will displace SMP servers, which in turn will reduce the total slots occupied by FC HBAs. Until then, they will co-exist in data centers providing their own functions.

Will HBAs disappear? Maybe, and maybe not. "How long did it take Ethernet NICs to disappear, 18 years? How long will it be before graphics cards disappear, ever? There's still a huge business in SCSI adapter cards," he said.

"I think predicting that day [that HBAs go away] is a fool's errand, and saying it'll be gone in 5 years defies history," said Wildermuth.

Let us know what you think about the story, e-mail Kevin Komiega, News Writer


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