Microsoft Backs Away From Infiniband

By eweek  |  Posted 2002-08-01

Microsoft Backs Away From Infiniband

Once-solid industry backing of Infiniband, an emerging high-speed interconnect, is crumbling as Microsoft Corp. confirmed this week that it has canned plans to support the technology in an upcoming release of Windows .Net Server software.

"Microsoft has decided to discontinue developing native Infiniband support, although it will continue to enable third parties to deploy Windows Infiniband solutions," said a spokesperson for the software maker, in Redmond, Wash.

Microsofts disclosure comes just two months after Intel Corp. announced it was halting production of Infiniband switches and channel adapters.

Both Microsoft and Intel have been leading proponents of the fabric-based I/O, which was once widely viewed as the eventual successor to the popularly used PCI bus. In fact, the computer giants helped found the Infiniband Trade Association in 1999, along with industry leaders Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. The organization has since grown to more than 200 members.

Overall, Infiniband is a channel-based, switched-fabric architecture that provides a scalable performance range of 500MB per second to 6GB per second per link. The new interconnect, set to appear in servers late this year, was seen as ideally suited to eliminate potential future bottlenecks in data centers, where high-performance processors could overload data connections from server-to-server or server-to-storage devices.

Infinibands data transfer rates looked especially impressive compared with PCI, introduced in the early 90s, which initially ran at 133MB per second. But PCIs performance has since been revved up, with the latest PCI-X standard offering 500MB-per-second speed, and a next-generation PCI-X 2.0 aiming to boost bandwidth to 4.3GB per second.

In addition, other rival technologies have emerged in recent years as well, including 10 Gigabit Ethernet, Fibre Channel and iSCSI.

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Although proponents still maintain Infiniband offers scalability and performance features rivals cant match, the technology does require users to deploy new hardware and software to support it, an expensive proposition and a particularly tough sell in these times of tight IT budgets.

Microsoft said such cost disadvantage and performance upgrades to existing I/O technologies spurred it to pull back its Infiniband support.

"The decision was based on the current economic climate, where IT managers are gravitating towards evolutionary technologies that allow them to leverage their current investments," said the Microsoft spokesperson.

Gigabit Ethernet technologies may not have the same performance levels currently as Infiniband, but they do address the demands of a higher range of server capabilities with no additional software or management expense, added spokesperson for the software giant.

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