NEW YORK—Since introducing the first silicon in 2000, the backers of the InfiniBand have been dogged by the same questions: how much major OEM support is the interconnect really going to get and how much interest will there be among enterprise users?
On Tuesday, the InfiniBand Trade Association tried to answer those questions.
At an event here, Tom Bradicich, chief technology officer for IBMs xSeries Server Group and co-chairman of the trade associations steering committee, said that most major computer makers already are on board, readying products that are InfiniBand-enabled and partnering with various InfiniBand companies.
If things go as planned, Bradicich said, the next 12 months will see growing adoption of InfiniBand architectures.
“I believe the end of this year and the beginning of next year will be key for InfiniBand adoption,” he told a group of about 50 reporters and analysts. “InfiniBand is positioned to play a wonderful role in helping administrators solve these problems” of scaling out their data center infrastructures and moving to standards-based products.
InfiniBand, a channel-based, switch-fabric architecture, initially was touted as a technology that could replace everything from PCI to Fibre Channel. Instead, thanks in part to the struggling economy, InfiniBand has found its first real traction in the high-performance computing arena, where research institutions are always eager for products that will increase speed and drive down latency, and dont need a major OEMs name attached to it to make it attractive.
Also, the interconnect space has gotten more crowded, with the rise of such technology as Fibre Channel, Ethernet and PCI-X. But InfiniBand offers a combination of benefits that others dont, Bradicich said. In particular, its an open standard that already has scaled to 10 gigabits per second—1-gigabit Ethernet is still maturing, and 10-gigabit Ethernet is still months away, he said—has an offload engine to reduce demand on the microprocessor and supports RDMA, or Remote Direct Memory Access, which enables one server to directly access the memory of another.
It also has growing OEM support. Bradicich said the next generation of IBMs Intel-based xSeries servers will be InfiniBand-enabled, and that Oracle Corp. will include InfiniBand support in the next major release of its Oracle9i Real Application Clusters product. Bob Zak, a Distinguished Engineer with Sun Microsystems Inc., 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. Its SunONE software products also will be enhanced with InfiniBand supporters.
The computer makers also have partnered with smaller InfiniBand companies. In March, Sun announced a joint development and licensing agreement with Topspin Communications Inc., while IBM has said that its DB2 database software can run with technology from such companies as Topspin, Voltaire Inc. and InfiniCon Systems Inc.
Equally as important as OEM support is adoption of the technology by enterprises, say InfiniBand supports. Donald Canning, vice president and chief technologist for Prudential Insurance Group, said his company has begun a pilot program using InfiniBand to scale out and simplify its DB2 resources running on x345 servers. Canning said he expects to expand that pilot to other parts of his data centers.
“What we are trying to get to is on-demand computing,” he said. “This silo approach [of computing] was very expensive.”
His group within Prudential runs 5,000 to 7,000 Intel-based systems, 600 to 700 Unix servers and six mainframes. Canning said he was looking for a single fabric to connect these resources and run them less expensively.
“Theres very little change. … 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 RDMA protocol.”
One administrator who wanted to remain anonymous said he supports InfiniBand for its high performance and low cost, but said the technologys supporters have to find a way to change the perception that OEMs are lukewarm in their support of the architecture. InfiniBand wasnt helped when Intel and Microsoft Corp. said they were backing away from in-house InfiniBand development.
“I think they have to get over the hurdle of [users] thinking that a lot of bigger companies have backed away,” the administrator said.
Theres also the question of whether enterprises should wait for something else to come along, such as RDMA running on 10-gigabit Ethernet, he said.
But Bradicich said that new technology coming down the pike is the nature of the industry, and that users have to decide whether to gain benefits from InfiniBand now or wait 18 months to two years for 10-gigabit Ethernet. And, he said, as Ethernet ramps up to 10 gigabits, InfiniBand will continue to mature. Already the specification is ready for it to increase to 30 gigabits, he said.