Topspin boosts InfiniBand switch

InfiniBand vendor Topspin Communications is rolling out software it says will let users combine heterogeneous servers and storage into a pool of resources that can grow and shrink in response to application demands.

Currently, Topspin's switches connect servers into clusters using InfiniBand, a high-speed I/O switching fabric. The switches include gateways that let those servers link to Ethernet LANs and SANs via Fibre Channel so that servers need only connect to the Topspin switch, rather than supporting multiple cables for network, storage and server-to-server communication.

With the new software, called VFrame, an InfiniBand switch becomes the director in a utility computing environment,says Stu Aaron, vice president of marketing and product management.

Today, InfiniBand is used primarily in high-performance computing clusters, although analysts say it is making its way into corporate data centers in niche deployments such as database clusters.

VFrame lets a switch respond to policies and rules in a variety of management tools and then provision servers - and the appropriate storage and network connectivity - on the fly and based on application needs. The VFrame software suite includes APIs that hook into management and provisioning tools that tell the switch what policies to look for and enforce.

In addition to hooking into management tools from major systems vendors such as Dell, HP, IBM and Sun, Topspin is partnering with other vendors such as VMware, Platform Computing, Oracle, Opsware and Qlusters to integrate support for those technologies into its InfiniBand switch.

VFrame is a next step for Topspin, which has been focusing on making its switches a part of utility computing and virtual server environments, analysts say. The software, available now at a starting price of US$10,000, comes after Topspin's March introduction of a remote boot service that lets diskless servers be provisioned with applications, operating system, storage and I/O resources on the fly and over a network.

Up the food chain

"VFrame is Topspin's next piece of the puzzle as they move further and further up the food chain from being just an InfiniBand switch company to a company that's allowing the managing and the provisioning of physical resources," says Vernon Turner, group vice president of global enterprise server solutions at IDC.

Turner says other InfiniBand switch makers, such as InfiniCon Systems and Voltaire, offer management capabilities but don't integrate with third-party management and provisioning tools the way Topspin's VFrame promises to. The key for Topspin, he says, is to continue integrating rules, such as security policies, into the switch.

Burlington Coat Factory in April deployed VFrame on a Topspin 360 Server Switch with Ethernet and Fibre Channel gateways to run an Oracle 10G database on diskless IBM x345 servers running Linux. The database connects to a Hitachi-based SAN.

John Decatur, systems specialist at the retailer, says he expects the database performance to nearly double and expects savings as a result of hardware consolidation by using the VFrame-enabled switch.

"We also see a great savings in provisioning. Since they are [not dedicated] servers, we can redeploy them in a flash to where the workload is needed instead of using dedicated systems that are not fully utilized," he says.

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