InfiniBand makes gradual comeback into storage

Two vendors unveiled products based on the InfiniBand high-speed networking specification last week, marking a revival of sorts for a technology once seen as a rival to Fibre Channel before faltering.

Isilon Systems unwrapped a new network-attached storage cluster and appliance to accelerate throughput that uses InfiniBand as a backbone to scale its system up to 250TB of capacity under a single file system.

The Isilon IQ 6000i system is built on rack-mountable 6TB nodes, which are each 2U high (1U = 1.75 in.). The IQ Accelerator appliance can increase cluster throughput to 6GB/sec.

Parag Mallick, director of clinical proteomics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, is using 10 Isilon IQ 6000i systems as back-end storage for three mass spectrometer machines that analyze blood proteins for a cancer research project. The spectrometers generate about 1TB of data per day.

"We had a fairly massive scalability problem. So the idea of taking a device off-line [to add storage capacity] was unthinkable," Mallick said.

The scientists working on the project also need massive bandwidth because they run analytical programs against the hundreds of terabytes of data collected over several months. "I'm pretty sure [the system] can saturate it," Mallick said.

When the first InfiniBand specification was released in 2000, the technology was touted as being far faster than existing Fibre Channel and other server-to-storage networking technologies, with throughput speeds of 10Gbit/sec. But the technology failed to gain momentum largely because it works well only when storage devices are located about 50 or fewer feet apart, analysts said, because signals degrade over long-distance wires.

Now InfiniBand is making a gradual comeback as a backbone technology for storage and server clusters and as a server-storage interconnect in data centers. The technology got a significant boost when Cisco Systems acquired switch maker Topspin Communications for $250 mil-lion in April, said Tony Asaro, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group.

Also last week, Engenio Information Technologies, announced that it started shipping Infini-Band-enabled storage arrays, with data throughput rates of 10Gbit/sec., more than twice the speed of the fastest Fibre Channel-based arrays.

The Engenio 6498 controller and storage system integrate InfiniBand connectivity with the company's previous all-Fibre Channel 6998 array, which offers either high-performance Fibre Channel or high-capacity Serial ATA disk drives.

Engenio, a subsidiary of LSI Logic, resells its products through Silicon Graphics, which bundles them with controller nodes from YottaYotta, to create the InfiniteStorage TP9700 array. The product is priced from US$103,550.

Meanwhile, SilverStorm Technologies earlier this month said it plans to introduce a InfiniBand switch with 20Gbit/sec. throughput in the first quarter of 2006.

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