Will Infiniband Rise Again? Follow the Money

Arthur Cole

Infiniband may have its detractors, but there's no question that the money people are enthralled. But is it because they view Infiniband as the next big thing in enterprise connectivity in general, or are they banking that the hot growth area will be networking environments, like HPC, that demand high throughput?


Our guess is that it's probably a little of both. There certainly seems to be a lot of people willing to hand over hard-earned dough to revive what many considered to be a technology past its prime. Israeli company Voltaire, a maker of Infiniband networking hardware and software, is looking to raise close to $70 million in an IPO later this year, even though the company lost nearly $13 million on revenues of $30 million last year.


Cisco is another firm ready to lay out big money. The company recently shored up its Infiniband chops by acquiring specialty firm Topspin Networks and counts a number of the top supercomputing clusters as clients. The Infiniband re-awakening couldn't have come at a better time for Cisco, which had invested heavily in the technology before opinion went south earlier in the decade.


And then there's SGI, which still considers HPC its bread and butter. The company opted for an Infiniband backplane on the Altix ICE 8200 blade, giving it a 20 Gbps link to network nodes and racks without external switching. Granted, SGI's track record in selecting winning technologies is not great (Itanium, anyone?), but it might have a shot in blades if it can convince people that even mid-level buyers would do well to shell out a little extra for 20 G connectivity.


But is it really worth it? Depends. A 1 microsecond latency (vs. 9 or so for Ethernet) could be a minor consideration for some, but a $100 million-a-year drag on profits for others. Then again, enterprises moving ahead with virtualization -- and all of the I/O consolidation, application tiers, load balancing and data protection that it entails -- might have a tough time seeing that through with Infiniband.


In time-honored journalistic tradition, we have a lot of questions but no easy answers when it comes to Infiniband. But some people see dollar signs ahead, and seem willing to bet the family farm that it has a future.

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