InfiniBand as the comeback kid?

I usually enjoy the several responses I get to my columns, although sometimes I get taken to task rather abruptly. One example of this happened a few weeks ago when I wrote about the battle going on between iSCSI and Fibre Channel for the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of the storage-area network buying public. I thought I had covered all the angles but then the e-mail arrived and I got smacked across the face with the cold codfish of reality.

When it comes to enterprise storage, one of my correspondents asked, what about InfiniBand? Now this is a word I have hardly heard at all of late, although the term certainly was quite chic a few years back. At one point InfiniBand was "the next great thing," the cure for almost everything from bandwidth problems to halitosis. I mentioned it in a column two years ago as a technology that was sure to make an impact.

But then, when there was little material evidence of any effect by the technology in the IT space, I just assumed I had missed the boat with my comment, and that my crystal fishbowl had been a tad cloudy that day. Of course, it didn't help matters that as the hype went away, so did several of the companies whose future counted on InfiniBand. And when Intel announced it was pulling the plug on its own InfiniBand silicon effort, the bottom seemed to drop out. When Intel "lost interest" so, predictably, did many others.

InfiniBand seemed to be withering on the vine, but in this case, it seems that moribund does not mean dead or even dying, for even though the hype went away, the technology did not. In fact, if we extend our examination beyond typical enterprise storage environments and we also consider situations where managers must "push the envelope," we see that InfiniBand has been quietly gathering steam during the interim. In fact, it is now a very serious player in high performance computing (HPC) environments where high bandwidth and very low latency are seen as the key components of the value proposition.

At this point major vendors such as Engenio, HP, IBM, Network Appliance and Sun all have products in the marketplace or on the way. At present these are aimed at HPC environments, which typically use early implementations of computational grids or data grids (or both) and which pass large blocks of data along wide pipes to 64-bit applications.

What has all this to do with you? Probably nothing today, but if you work in large IT rooms, perhaps everything tomorrow. Technology has a habit of percolating down from HPC to the rest of us, much of it eventually landing on the desktop. And so, next week, we'll look at what InfiniBand may have in store.

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