InfiniBand companies this week will show switches and network adapters at NetWorld+Interop to IT professionals who are largely unaware of the high-speed interface used in servers to relieve network congestion.
Switch start-up InfiniCon Systems and 20 other companies, including Intel Corp. and Emulex Corp., are exhibiting in the InfiniBand Trade Association pavilion. Analysts say IT professionals haven't heard the hype about InfiniBand, don't know when it will be available and don't immediately understand the benefits of using it.
"No way do users understand InfiniBand," says Tony Prigmore, an analyst with Enterprise Storage Group. "Customers have no idea what InfiniBand will do, just as they don't understand IP storage."
InfiniBand is a 2.5G bit/sec, point-to-point server interconnect technology that lets multiple I/O devices request data from a system CPU at the same time without delays or congestion. It is an alternative to slower, more congested, serial, bus-based technologies, such as PCI and Extended PCI, which handle only one request at a time.
Users need InfiniBand to relieve bus-congestion problems and increase an application's access to memory, vendors say. Network managers will most likely install InfiniBand servers, switches and adapters in Internet data centers where it will cluster servers to increase computational capability, or in database operations that are I/O intensive, says Bert McComas, an analyst with Inquest Market Research.
"InfiniBand is going to be a widely adopted replacement to the PCI bus," McComas says. "In the next six months we are going to see a bunch of switches to get us ready for 2002 when the system vendors will ship embedded InfiniBand servers.
InfiniBand will be another interconnect for high-availability clusters [of servers], available at a lower price, better performance and lower latency," he says.
McComas says that for InfiniBand to be adopted there must be a compelling data- and I/O-centric application, such as Oracle Parallel Server (OPS). In OPS, multiple instances of the database running on different computer systems can simultaneously access the same database files to increase availability and performance.
One customer could immediately think of instances in which InfiniBand would be helpful.
"Even though we don't have an immediate plan to implement InfiniBand, it would be useful in the data center where Microsoft Cluster Server operates," says Kevin Beattie, director of corporate information services at Nordson, a precision-dispensing manufacturer in Westlake, Ohio. "Companies that are doing data mining or warehousing or looking to get into global available-to-promise modeling, which require giant memory resources, would be excellent candidates for InfiniBand."
InfiniCon, which is making its debut at N+I, Paceline Systems and Infini Switch are all early developers of switches for the new higher-speed system interface that system vendors will incorporate into servers by year-end.
Adaptec will manufacture an external InfiniBand RAID controller for SCSI storage that will be available in the first half of next year. Other vendors, such as QLogic, OmegaBand and Crossroads Systems, will also make InfiniBand routers.
IBM and Intel are said to be joining InfiniCon and others in the nascent InfiniBand switch and adapter market. Vieo claims it will develop software that will manage and optimize the operation of applications such as databases that run on InfiniBand networks, a company spokesman says.
InfiniBand will first be implemented as host and target channel adapters and switches. The host channel adapter (HCA) will fit in the PCI slot of an existing server or an embedded InfiniBand server.
The HCA will attach to an InfiniBand switch, which will route data to a target channel adapter (TCA) in a storage or other communications device. Vendors such as Emulex and Atto Technology plan to make TCAs.
IDC expects the InfiniBand market to be huge. The research firm says 100,000 servers built around the InfiniBand architecture will ship late this year, skyrocketing to 3.5 million servers in 2004.