Dell, IBM, Sun Step Up for InfiniBand

The trio plans to build InfiniBand capabilities into future hardware and software products.

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.