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Companies roll out 10G bit/sec InfiniBand product demos

New products and performance demonstration of the speedy 10G bit/sec InfiniBand interconnect are everywhere, but questions about mass adoption of the technology in data centers still loom.

A laundry list of companies teamed up this week to prove the performance of InfiniBand and present products based...

on the interconnect technology.

At the SuperComputing 2002 conference in Baltimore this week, Lane15 Software Inc., Appro International Inc. and InfiniCon Systems Inc. demonstrated applications that contrasted the performance of a 10G bit/sec InfiniBand cluster versus a Gigabit Ethernet cluster.

Lane15 claimed that these demonstrations present the first performance benchmarks of market-ready products based on InfiniBand architecture. The company said the InfiniBand-enabled cluster scored a three-to-four times performance advantage over the Gigabit Ethernet-enabled cluster.

Shaun Walsh, vice president and general manager of JNI Corp.'s I/O solutions group and the person who oversees development of InfiniBand technology within JNI, said that database environments and supercomputing applications will be the proving ground for InfiniBand technology.

Doubts about the future of InfiniBand were raised when Intel canceled a program to produce silicon chips that could communicate with storage devices and servers via InfiniBand. Microsoft was also on the InfiniBand-wagon until it shelved plans to support the technology in its .NET Server operating platform. QLogic Corp. also nixed its InfiniBand switch silicon because of concerns that market adoption would be a crapshoot. Most recently, startup InfiniBand manufacturer OmegaBand, based in Austin, Texas, shut its doors because of an inability to find additional funding.

"It's very much like when Fibre Channel started out," Walsh said. "InfiniBand made the mistake of trying to say it was the 'uber-interconnect.' There is no one technology that can do it all."

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

JNI, which is based in San Diego, announced two new dual-port 10G bit/sec PCI-X-to-InfiniBand host channel adapter (HCA) modules for use in server cluster applications. The modules are intended for use with leading database and high-performance clustering applications like Oracle 9i RAC, IBM DB2 Universal Database and MPI/Pro from MPI Software Technology.

The IBX-4x02i-C is a dual port PCI-X-to-InfiniBand channel adapter based on second-generation InfiniBlue silicon from IBM Microelectronics; it's capable of delivering throughout at speeds of up to 20G bit/sec. The new InfiniStar module operates at speeds four times as fast as that of first-generation InfiniBand HCA modules, according to JNI.

The IBX-4x02m-C HCA module is based on InfiniHost MT23108 silicon from Mellanox Technologies. It is also capable of 20 G bit/sec performance.

InfiniBand was originally thought of as a replacement for Peripheral Component Interface (PCI)-bus technology, which can be found in every PC and server. But now PCI is a dated technology and, at a speed of 133 MHz, it is maxed out. InfiniBand was designed to be a switch architecture with a starting transfer rate of 2.5G bit/sec and subsequent speed increases of up to 12G bits/sec. Experts say 10G bit/sec InfiniBand technology is already operational.

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.

InfiniBand can be applied to data storage environments by connecting clustered file systems or as a backbone within storage arrays themselves.

Arun Taneja, a senior analyst with Milford, Mass.-based Enterprise Storage Group Inc., said that in less than two years, servers will lose the PCI bus and gain the InfiniBand interface.

"There is no question in my mind that the first place InfiniBand will play is in clustering and high-performance computing applications, specifically for clustered databases," Taneja said.

Taneja projects broad evaluation of InfiniBand by general IT users will begin in the last quarter of 2003.

He said that adoption of the technology will become significant once major server vendors like Dell Computer Corp., IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. produce InfiniBand-based server blades.


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