Infiniband Primed for the Fabric


With all the talk about unified fabrics and high-speed "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" networks, the Infiniband community says it is ready to step up to the plate.


But the group is walking a fine line, at once expanding the technology's throughput and capabilities while trying to convince the enterprise industry that it's neither expensive nor reserved for solely HPC applications.


The Infiniband Trade Association (IBTA) is addressing both of those issues, first by issuing a timeline on the likely upgrade path for Infiniband -- one that has the technology pushing 1 Tbps within the next three years -- and then by drawing price comparisons with other leading fabric technologies, namely Ethernet.


Already, the race toward faster Infiniband is on, with both Mellanox and QLogic rolling out 20 Gb technology within the past month and vowing to jump that to 40 Gb within the next year. You can also add Voltaire into the mix. The company is planning a 40 Gb quad data rate (QDR) switching platform using Mellanox silicon.


The aggressive development schedule is an attempt to counter the growing impression that Ethernet will form the data backbone for the enterprise. By ramping up the schedule, Infiniband backers can claim that they can unify data networks sooner and for less money.


"Infiniband is certainly cheaper on a per Gb basis, absolute," Patrick Guay, executive vice president at Voltaire and spokesman for the IBTA, told me. "When you compare the raw cost of 20 Gb Infiniband vs. 10 GbE, it's still less expensive. In some cases, depending on the configuration, it can be less expensive the 1 GbE. And then when you factor in densities and the efficiency of a smaller number of servers to do the same amount of work, you see the real price/performance ratios at play."


Still, Ethernet has the advantage of being fairly ubiquitous throughout the enterprise, while Infiniband is still considered a server interconnect. But that may be about to change as Infiniband solutions start to reach out to the wider world, with storage as the first stop. Voltaire and DataDirect Networks, for example, recently united the Grid Director switch platform with DataDirect's S2A9900 StorageScaler system offering native 20 Gb Infiniband for configurations up to 1.2 PB.


There is also growing activity surrounding wide-area Infiniband. ADVA Optical Networking recently lined up with Obsidian Strategics and, again, Voltaire, to demonstrate a 50 km Infiniband connection at the University of Stuttgart. The demo linked more than 500 computing nodes through a 288-port Grid Director switch over ADVA's FSP WDM system.


Wit most organizations already heavily invested in Ethernet, it will take a bit of work to convince them that an entirely new fabric is in their best interests. Infiniband is certainly off to a good start. It will be interesting to see if it can live up to the promises.