Rising Tide of Infiniband Clusters

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The growing interest in server clustering is leading to renewed demand for Infiniband, particularly for the high data demands that arise from increasingly virtualized environments. And since effective networking typically relies on a well-coordinated suite of technologies, a number of vendor agreements have been forged this year aimed at forming interoperable Infiniband solutions.


One example is QLogic Corp. and LSI Corp., which have agreed to cross-certify their various storage and networking products as part of QLogic's HPCtrack program. The deal is likely to prove especially beneficial to LSI's Engenio storage line, which is already pushing Infiniband to its limits in petascale environments at Tennessee's Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


IBM is also shoring up its Infiniband infrastructure by extending its relationship with Voltaire Ltd., adding a pass-through module for the Voltaire Infiniband DDR and an HBA for the Gridstack interconnect software for the BladeCenter line. The pass-through module is the only one that provides 20 Gbps for the BladeCenter and the only one in the industry that uses Voltaire's design. IBM will also offer Voltaire's Grid Director switches, routers and software in the Cluster 1350 portfolio.


One of the latest groups to adopt Infiniband-based clustering is the Linux community, although so far it has proven to be cost-effective only for very large environments of 64 nodes and up. But that's about to change, according to avowed "Cluster Monkey" Jeff Layton, with the resurgence of SDR (single data rate) Infiniband from the likes of Mellanox and Colfax International. The latest pricing for SDR Infiniband is less than $260 per node for an eight-node cluster, and only slightly higher for 24 nodes.


New Infiniband users quickly become familiar with one of its negative aspects: low tolerance for data capture and analysis. An Australian company called Endace Ltd. says it has a fix in the form of the NinjaBox and NinjaProbe network appliances. The devices perform non-disruptive tap, capture, measurement and analysis of Infiniband traffic, and provide access to the company's Wireshark on-board analysis tool without having to resort to remote distribution of large capture files.


Despite all this good news, server clustering is not for the faint of heart. That is, you don't just wire up your racks and enjoy the bounty of high-performance computing. But for organizations that have a demonstrated need for more juice under the hood, clustering can usually get you there faster and cheaper than another mainframe.