Is Infiniband poised to become the network fabric of choice for both local and wide area data services? That's the conclusion of some proponents who argue that the format is ready to unite storage and server networks now while iSCSI and Fibre Channel play catch-up.
One of the biggest boosters of Infiniband is Voltaire. The company's new SR4G storage router connects SANs to Infiniband networks by adding iSCSI extensions to the Remote Direct memory Access (RDMA) protocol. This allows the device to convert the on-board 1-, 2- or 4 Gb Fibre Channel interfaces to Infiniband for trafficking through Voltaire's 20-Gb switches. Voltaire executives argue that instead of waiting for high-speed Ethernet solutions, Infiniband is available right now and can cut down on the number of HBAs needed for high-power computing.
Of course, Infiniband is used mainly as a local networking solution. But that may be changing. A company called Obsidian has developed a line of Infiniband range extension devices called Longbows designed to send Infiniband over OC-192 or 10 GbE wide area networks. The company recently showed off its technology at the Supercomputing 2007 show in Reno, Nev., where it was used to mount a floor-wide network on an unmodified Open Fabrics Enterprise Distribution (OFED) stack.
New optical solutions are coming out as well. XLoom Communications just released an optical module designed to migrate Infiniband networks from copper using the same CX4 interconnects. A standard optical link could stretch to 100 meters, compared to copper's maximum range of about 10 meters. The AVDAT 4X module supports single and double Infiniband data rates, as well as 10G Ethernet XAUI interfaces and Fibre Channel switching.
Infiniband is still going strong as a front-end network connection as well, particularly in an age when multicore CPUs, PCIe, HyperTransport and other technologies are upping the pressure on I/O infrastructures. Earlier this month, Ibrix and Mellanox teamed up to provide the first scalable NAS using Infiniband networking. The pair aims to alleviate I/O bottlenecks with single-port speeds in the 10 to 20 Gbps range, expanding to 40 in the near future.
Infiniband supporters do have a point in that it provides the kind of advanced networking that high-powered, consolidated environments demand. There is a cost element, however. Those who need it now will have to pay for it. But those who can wait will certainly see lower-cost Ethernet solutions in the short run.