InfiniBand: Whats Next?

The interconnect technology has many supporters but no major ones.

The year 2003 is shaping up to become an important period for InfiniBand, the much-touted but little-seen high-speed interconnect technology.

Despite setbacks earlier this year, when Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp., two founding members of the InfiniBand Trade Association, backed away from InfiniBand development efforts, smaller InfiniBand vendors have recently launched enterprise-ready products, highlighted by Mellanox Technologies Inc., JNI Corp., Topspin Communications Inc. and Paceline Systems Corp.

Such rollouts are expected to continue in 2003. Even better, last week, top-tier server vendors Dell Computer Corp., IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. said they will deploy InfiniBand-enabled products over the next couple of years, answering the call of industry observers who say InfiniBand wont take off until larger server vendors embrace the technology and drive it deep into the enterprise.

InfiniBand, a channel-based, switched-fabric architecture, initially was expected to replace other interconnect technologies, such as PCI. But while InfiniBand has reached the 10G-bps mark faster than other technologies, one of its problems is that its a brand-new architecture that companies with tight IT budgets need to fit into their infrastructures. In addition, such connectivity technologies as PCI-X and 10 Gigabit Ethernet can fit in with current systems, and storage connectivity technologies such as Fibre Channel and iSCSI also have seen performance and speed improvements.

Current innovation in InfiniBand is being driven by smaller vendors that are rolling out products, many of which are aimed at making larger vendors products InfiniBand-ready.

InfiniSwitch Corp., of Westboro, Mass., which builds high-speed switches for InfiniBand-enabled devices, in the first half of 2003 will announce general availability of its Leaf and Director products. Leaf, aimed at the low end, will offer two 12-port blades—or 24 switches—enabling users to bring InfiniBand connectivity into their data centers. Director, which is currently capable of 1x—or 2.5G-bps—data transfer speed, will run at 4x, or 10G bps.