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InfiniBand wagon may pass storage

Here's a look at one company's InfiniBand development efforts and views from others about this new technology.

By Alan Earls

With a company like Adaptec, Inc. making the effort to demonstrate new InfiniBand technology that connects servers to external storage at the recent Intel Developer Forum (August 22 through August 24, 2000, in San Jose, Calif.), it sure sounds like its time to take note of this potentially important emerging standard.

Adaptec is a sponsoring member of the InfiniBand Trade Association (IBTA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing and promoting the InfiniBand architecture. For the uninitiated, the IBTA was founded by the likes of Compaq, Dell, Hewlett- Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems with the common aim of developing a new, common I/ O specification. The thrust is not unlike the recent cross-industry effort to create PCI-X as an extension to the existing PCI bus but with speeds of up to 133 MHz and providing the I/O bandwidth needed for applications such as Gigabit Ethernet, Fibre Channel, Ultra3 SCSI and Cluster Interconnects.

"We are committed to having InfiniBand I/O solutions available in time for the first major InfiniBand server launches," said Jim Comstock, vice president for Storage Networking Solutions at Adaptec. Adaptec's InfiniBand product development efforts to date make use of components from Intel's Fabric Components Division.

The InfiniBand development efforts follow Adaptec's formation of the Storage Networking Solutions Group earlier this year. The group is focused on broadening the SAN marketplace by bringing new storage fabric technologies to market. Storage fabric solutions, says Adaptec, can provide customers with a lower cost of management, increased data availability, and higher levels of performance and scalability.

Of course, Adaptec isn't the only player moving into the InfiniBand space. Compaq, for example, recently issued a white paper touting the technical strength of InfiniBand and hinting at more to come by way of products. (For details, please see the additional resources section below.)

Still, InfiniBand may not have the inside track. William Hurley, an analyst with Boston-based Yankee group predicts that InfiniBand will be used initially for high-speed server clustering. "By adding Compaq to the InfiniBand wagon, the opportunity for future [storage] adoption brightens. Yet, actual implementation remains on the horizon as early demonstrations have only just begun," he observes. Furthermore, he notes, "the acceptance of Fibre Channel as a physical layer for storage networks, and the emergence of IP protocol-based storage solutions, will challenge the migration of InfiniBand beyond server clustering."

"For the foreseeable future, we'll bridge adapters to InfiniBand from Fibre Channel devices, but sooner or later one would think native InfiniBand device connections will make more sense," notes Steve Duplessie, senior analyst of the Enterprise Storage Group, Milford, Mass. "I believe that Storage over IP has even greater, short-term ramifications. But again, we'll be able to run IP over InfiniBand, also," he adds.

Additional resources:

About the author: Alan Earls is a freelance writer based in Franklin, Mass.

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