Traditional role of servers begins to change

When the final InfiniBand Specifications are released later this year by the InfiniBand Trade Association, the I/O solution will not only provide 2.5GBps of data throughput, but will also allow for radical changes in the way networks are configured, changing the role of the server, and simplifying what has been the complex task of deploying a network.

InfiniBand, a switched fabric data-throughput solution with as many as 64,000 nodes, will replace shared buses, allow for multiple cable attachments to optimise data transfer, and will give IT the freedom to spread out the network into task-specific devices, enabling simpler, faster attached storage systems, and eliminating the need for hard drives, or any storage device for that matter, inside the server, according to Jim Pappas, director of initiative marketing for Intel's Fabric Components Division.

"I think most storage and server companies are aware that InfiniBand is coming," said Pappas, who agreed with what many familiar with the industry have been saying for some time that servers are being pulled away from the duties of having to manage storage.

Recent trends toward attached storage systems and off-the-network Internet storage have each served as indicators that the industry is quickly moving toward network architectures that leave the servers with little more to do than drive data.

In a recent interview with Dan Warmenhoven, CEO of Network Appliances, Warmenhoven, in making his case for Internet storage, even went as far as to say that servers "make very inefficient data managers and data access devices."

And now with InfiniBand on the horizon, companies certainly will begin ramping up network solutions that separate servers from storage duties all together.

Evidence of this came last week during an announcement from EMC Corporation. The centerpiece of the announcement was the Symmetrix 8000 series of storage systems capable of holding 19.1TB of data, or just shy of doubling the capacity of that line's predecessor. Company officials believe the new system offers a strong alternative to traditional server-based systems, which he believes are slowly becoming antiquated.

"Servers will continue to play a role for things like data processing, but increasingly we see it as a commodities market. We don't think we will be investing much in them in the future," said Mike Ruettgers, CEO of EMC.

The new products herald technology breakthroughs that will be in common use by many large IT shops by the year 2003. Ruettgers and members of his executive team made two predictions of what could be achieved through the deployment of InfiniBand include the following: that typical corporate account will have one petabyte of data available online; and that most servers will not have hard drives, with most data networked to a central storage location.

Developed jointly by member companies from all facets of the IT industry, InfiniBand will have cross-platform compatibility, simplifying networks even more by allowing mixed-vendor configurations.

Dan Neel is an InfoWorld reporter. Ed Scannell is an InfoWorld editor at large.

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