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`Tis the season for InfiniBand plugfests

InifiniBand may be coming of age if the recent surge of conferences and plugfests are any indication.

`Tis the season for InfiniBand plugfests
By Alan Earls

The InfiniBand Trade Association recently announced two upcoming events that will showcase the continued momentum surrounding InfiniBand architecture development. A second InfiniBand plugfest will be held October 23-25 in San Francisco, and another InfiniBand conference will be held November 7-8 in Los Angeles.

Vernon Turner, group vice president for IDC in Framingham, Mass., says attendees at the upcoming InfiniBand Trade Association's plugfest and conference can expect to see more milestones be reached. "The focus is clearly on getting products ready for 2002 and beginning an end-user InfiniBand education and awareness process," he says.

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

InfiniBand plugfests got underway in mid-2001 and will probably continue for some years to come. That's especially true, notes Eunice, "as bigger pipes (12x), higher-capacity switches (greater than eight ports), and high-end function -- extensively partitioned/zoned fabrics -- start coming on-line."

"But as InfiniBand rolls out, a good deal of energy and effort now has to go into getting the network aspect right," Eunice says. "First and foremost, that means seamless interoperability, just like with today's IP networks." Customers demand it, and as the Fibre Channel situation shows, says Eunice, they'll dramatically penalize any technology, no matter how optimized, "that can't get its interop act straight."

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 next. 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 says.

Plugfests typically bring out all sorts of unanticipated glitches, parts of the standard that everyone thought were fine but in reality were too vague or allowed conflicting interpretations and miscellaneous other `teething pains.' "But the good news," Eunice notes, "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.

Interoperability labs and Plugfests should be seen as a process, not a destination, says Eunice. "To paraphrase Wendell Phillips' famous observation, Eunice adds, 'eternal vigilance is the price of interoperability.'"

Additional Resources:
1. How do I manage InfiniBand?
This is a great starter for those IT professionals looking into InfiniBand architecture. Author Ramon D. Acosta, Sr. technical staff at Lane15 Software, discusses InfiniBand fabrics and management model. Mr. Acosta also provides several good figures showing the InfiniBand subnet and management model.
Click here.

2. Which interconnect technology is the best?
In the ongoing debate over which interconnect technologies or device interfaces are the best at connecting servers or storage devices -- Fibre Channel, Internet Protocol (IP) or InfinBand -- some companies have taken the position that it's not about which technology will emerge as the standard, but rather, how can these technologies work together. Adaptec, Inc. is one of those companies. Here is a searchStorage exclusive interview with Mark Delsman, chief technology officer at Adaptec.

3. How can I survive the battle of the standards?
"Duck and cover," the old Cold War A-bomb safety advice, might be the best bet for anyone trying to figure out the endless Fibre Channel versus IP versus InfiniBand debate. According to John Webster, an analyst at Nashua, NH-based Illuminata, common sense has become the first casualty in this ongoing standards war. "Proponents of IP storage run the risk of creating the same kind of hype versus reality disconnect that was generated around Fibre Channel not long ago," Webster says. Read more to see what Webster's advice is for keeping sane amidst the standards conflagration.

4. What else do I need to know about InfiniBand?
Can InfiniBand replace bus-based I/O architectures? Trying to decouple I/O from servers and storage, the new InfiniBand architecture (backed by the likes of Intel, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, IBM and Sun) steps on the scene. Read more in this searchStorage exclusive Featured Topic on InfiniBand.

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

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