Infiniband Heading into Storage


Bit by bit, system by system, Infiniband is breaking out of its traditional role as a server interconnect and pursuing its original promise as a full-blown enterprise fabric.


The first stop on this journey is storage. The last year has seen a number of key storage-related implementations, a trend that seems to be kicking into high gear as we head into the fourth quarter.


The most notable development came earlier this week when Oracle and HP unveiled the Exadata Programmable Storage Server. Built on a pair of Xeon quads, the system features up to 12 TB of storage and a dual-Infiniband architecture capable of transfer speeds as high as 1 Gbps. And even then, the speed is limited by the drive performance. Ultimately, the system will be able to support up to 5 Gbps. That kind of speed is even more impressive, considering that Oracle has devised a new data transfer regimen that only delivers query results, rather than complete disk blocks.


Infiniband as a storage solution is highly appealing to those working in heavy data environments, such as high-def video or film processing. Rorke Data recently launched the Galaxy Aurora IB SAN appliance aimed at the post-production industry. The company says it turned to Infiniband because it offers higher bandwidth and less network complexity than current Fibre Channel solutions. The device provides upwards of 1700 MBps of throughput.


Boosters of flash technology for the enterprise have not overlooked Infiniband either. Fusion-io is adding a converged network interface to its ioMemory system, allowing users to dynamically switch between 10 GbE and 40 GBps Infiniband. The company is looking for partners on a multi-tiered storage system, possibly using SATA arrays for bulk storage.


One partnership that is in the works is Voltaire and DataDirect. The two are collaborating on bringing native Infiniband storage to the enterprise by combining the Voltaire Grid Director with the S2A9900 StorageScaler system. The companies claim the joint solution can provide up to 6 GBps using 20 Gbps Infiniband DDR host connections.


Infiniband's biggest problem at the moment is that it has already been hit with the curse of high expectations. Following the fanfare of its introduction nearly 10 years ago, in which it was relegated largely to the HPC market, Infiniband will have to overcome a substantial amount of skepticism as it tries to present itself as a broad-based networking solution.


But the technology is sound. It offers the widest pipe on the market today, and it has an upgrade path that should keep it on the cutting edge well into the future.