Dell, IBM, Sun Step Up for InfiniBand

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2002-12-19

Dell, IBM, Sun Step Up for InfiniBand

InfiniBand, the high-speed interconnect technology that started out with a lot of promise but struggled through a difficult 2002, is getting some much-needed public support from major industry players.

Dell Computer Corp., IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. on Thursday are reiterating plans to build InfiniBand capabilities into future hardware and software products.

InfiniBand—a channel-based, switched fabric architecture—was at one time touted as replacing other interconnect technologies, such as PCI on the desktop. However, the growth of such technologies as PCI-X and 10 Gigabit Ethernet, and storage connectivity technologies, such as Fibre Channel and iSCSI, has changed the landscape.

Now InfiniBand, which has beaten the other technologies to the 10G-bps speed mark, is being viewed more as a complementary technology in the data center, able to be used in conjunction with Ethernet and Fibre Channel. The technology is particularly gaining attention in clustering and high-performance computing scenarios, where its high bandwidth and low latency are crucial. It also has the benefit of being a standard, where most other interconnect technologies in that space are proprietary.

But while InfiniBand initially was hyped too much, it now is being criticized too harshly, said Subodh Bapat, chief technology officer of Suns Volume Systems Products group. That is a key reason why Sun, IBM and Dell—key players in the InfiniBand Trade Association—are making a highly public stand behind it.

"We believe collectively that this technology has considerable merit," said Bapat, in Santa Clara, Calif.

He said that Sun, starting in 2004, will begin making all its server and storage hardware Infiniband ready, kicking off with its blade servers in 2004. The company also will begin making enhancements to its Solaris operating system and Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) middleware to enable applications to take advantage of the benefits of InfiniBand and for high-performance, continuously available Web services, Bapat said. He declined to say when the InfiniBand-enhanced OS or Sun ONE products would be released.

These InfiniBand projects will be a combination of in-house research and partnering with third parties, he said.

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Meanwhile, IBM next year will begin deploying InfiniBand servers across its Intel-based eServers xSeries, said Tom Bradicich, CTO of IBMs xSeries group, in Research Triangle Park, N.C. The InfiniBand switch network, which will involve third-party technology, will include a host channel adapter, a switch and fabric management.

For its mid-range and high-end Unix servers, IBM will develop a common clustering interconnect and Interprocessor Communication fabric based on InfiniBand. That interconnect will roll out within the next few years, Bradicich said.

He also said that IBMs DB2 database software is being readied for InfiniBand.

In addition, even though IBMs Microelectronics division, in East Fishkill, N.Y., has halted development of its own InfiniBand silicon, it is working to help foundry customers who want to custom-make their own InfiniBand chips, he said.

Dell, in Round Rock, Texas, will make its next generation of PowerEdge modular blade servers InfiniBand ready, primarily through slots in which users can plug in InfiniBand connectivity, a spokeswoman said.

The companies endorsement comes at an important time for InfiniBand, according to industry observers. Earlier this year, key players Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. both pulled back on InfiniBand development, though both say they still support the technology.

At the same time, numerous smaller vendors and startups have begun rolling out enterprise-ready InfiniBand products. What also has been important is the development of 4x—or 10Gb—silicon and of software for such jobs as fabric management to support InfiniBand networks.

However, analysts have said that it was important that top-tier players step out in support of the technology in order to help educate customers and drive up demand.

One top-tier OEM missing from the list is Hewlett-Packard Co., of Palo Alto, Calif. HP was one of the founding members of the InfiniBand Trade Association.

In a statement Thursday, Karl Walker, CTO of HPs Industry Standard Servers, said InfiniBand is part of a larger fabric strategy that the company is working on as part of its "adaptive infrastructure" program.

"InfiniBand is an emerging technology and, as such, HP is taking a pragmatic approach to its adoption and deployment," Walker said.

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