Interconnects Vie for Spotlight

IBM, Intel, Sun debate technologies' merits.

Supporters of two up-and-coming Interconnect Technologies are making a push to make them more familiar to end users.

The InfiniBand Trade Association—led by IBM, Intel Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.—tried to answer at an event here last week the questions that have dogged the technology since it was introduced in 2000: How much major OEM support is the interconnect going to get, and how much interest will there be in the enterprise?

In addition, in a Webcast this week, Intel officials will outline the companys plans for PCI Express—a step up from the current PCI standard that connects such devices as chips and sound cards to one another inside the PC—and the growing support for the technology from OEMs.

At the InfiniBand event, Tom Bradicich, chief technology officer for IBMs xSeries Server Group and co-chairman of the trade associations steering committee, said most major computer makers already are on board, readying products that are InfiniBand-enabled.

The next generation of IBMs Intel-based xSeries servers will be InfiniBand-enabled, and Oracle Corp. will include InfiniBand support in the next major release of its Oracle9i RAC (Real Application Clusters) product, said Bradicich, in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Bob Zak, a Distinguished Engineer with Sun, said the Santa Clara, Calif., company will introduce the next generation of its blade servers with InfiniBand support next year, followed by other server and storage products.

InfiniBand, a channel-based, switched-fabric architecture used to connect servers with one another or other networks, initially was touted as a technology that could replace everything from PCI to Fibre Channel. Instead, InfiniBand has found its first real traction in high-performance computing.

Donald Canning, vice president and chief technologist for Prudential Insurance Group, in New York, said his company has begun a pilot program using InfiniBand to scale out and simplify its DB2 resources running on IBM x345 servers. Canning said he expects to expand that pilot to other parts of his data centers.

"Theres very little change [in bringing in InfiniBand]. ... Its kind of like a natural next step," Canning said. "Theres not a lot of risk here because it doesnt really have a lot of moving parts. The only moving parts are the InfiniBand and [Remote Direct Memory Access] protocol."

Officials with Intel, also of Santa Clara, said that next year they will begin incorporating PCI Express into their chip sets for Xeon MP-based servers—code-named Twin Castle—and two-way Xeon systems—code-named Lindenhurst—and that they expect systems from OEMs using the chip sets to follow.

A key benefit to PCI Express over PCI-X is speed, with links running at 2.5G bps, about 40 percent faster than links via PCI-X, the officials said.