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InfiniBand group pushes data center adoption

The InfiniBand Trade Association has taken its show on the road to educate the masses and demonstrate that it is the technology of choice for deploying data center fabrics. But experts and vendors still have their doubts.

The InfiniBand Trade Association (IBTA) has taken its message to the streets, claiming that the new InfiniBand interconnect technology is better than Ethernet for deploying data center fabrics. But the industry is skeptical about the technology and its supposed place as the plumbing for connecting servers and storage.

Beginning this week, the IBTA will tour Chicago, Dallas and Houston to bring its presentations and its demonstration equipment to the people.

According to the IBTA, there will be multi-vendor demonstrations of the InfiniBand architecture at work, featuring 10G bit/sec InfiniBand fabric performance which, the IBTA claims, represents seven times the data throughput of a TCP/IP over gigabit Ethernet configuration. The performance of the InfiniBand fabric achieves 806M bit/sec while maintaining a 3% CPU utilization rate, the IBTA said.

The argument is that the low CPU utilization of an InfiniBand fabric improves CPU efficiency from existing TCP/IP data center configurations. This fact, combined with InfiniBand's high throughput, means that the host server processor is almost completely available to speed data center application performance.

Richard Scannell, vice president of Framingham, Mass.-based GlassHouse Technologies Inc., believes that InfiniBand will replace PCI in all high-end servers with adjoining InfiniBand pipes connecting servers to switches. Any effect on storage networks, he said, will be negligible.

"I don't see making any change in the data center infrastructure for at least five years," Scannell said.

According to online technical dictionary "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."

Jamie Gruener, a senior analyst for Boston-based Yankee Group Inc., said InfiniBand will either take off as a popular interconnect for servers in the next five years or not catch on at all.

"Vendors have been waffling on backing this technology," he said. "Adopting new technology is very difficult."

However, he does see possibilities for InfiniBand in storage, including connecting clustered file systems or as a backbone within the array itself.

The "wafflers" that Gruener referred to are varied. Intel Corp. backed the technology but canceled a program to make available in 2003 chips that could communicate with storage devices or servers via InfiniBand. Microsoft was also on the InfiniBand-wagon until it recently announced that it would not support the technology in its .NET Server. QLogic Corp. shelved its InfiniBand switch silicon, due to concerns that market adoption would be a crap shoot.

But InfiniBand does have its backers. Included on the list is IBM Corp.; Hitachi Ltd., which invested in an InfiniBand equipment builder called Voltaire; and InfiniCon Systems Inc., which made its first InfiniBand switch available last week.

Users who want to sneak a peek at the technology in action can do so when another series of "InfiniBand IT Roadshows," as the IBTA is calling the series of visits, lands in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. The InfiniBand demonstration incorporates an IBM DB2 as well as systems from Dell Computer Corp., Network Appliance Inc., and Sun Microsystems Inc.

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


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