IBM has announced that it has signed a five-year agreement to resell an InfiniBand switch as a high-speed I/O interconnect for its servers and storage, a move one analyst called the beginning of a "broad-based push" by vendors for the nascent high-speed interconnect technology.
IBM said it would integrate Topspin Communications' switch for use as a high-performance computing and database-clustering technology using its eServer pSeries, zSeries, iSeries and xSeries systems and TotalStorage product line.
Topspin currently sells a line of 4X InfiniBand switches with 10Gbit/sec. throughput and has plans for a 12X InfiniBand line with 30Gbit/sec. throughput.
Pprogram manager for grid deployment and data centre services at MCNC Grid Computing & Networking Services, Chuck Kesler, has been testing Topspin's InfiniBand switch and has seen a performance boost of up to six times that of Gigabit Ethernet.
MCNC provides high-speed interconnection services for research, video and Internet access to more than 180 North Carolina universities and public institutions.
Kesler, who is using the switch to cluster 12 nodes in a 64-node IBM eServer cluster, said the main performance boost came from less latency between interserver communications that didn't have to offload the TCP/IP stack involved in Ethernet.
"It's not that we didn't want to go with Gigabit Ethernet," Kesler said. "That's the primary switch interconnect fabric on our clusters. But we wanted to look at a second option for lower latency and faster speed."
The hype around InfiniBand died more than a year ago, and many mainstream vendors dropped plans to develop their own InfiniBand products, preferring to allow start-ups invest in the then-unproven technology.
For example, in 2002, Intel stopped work on InfiniBand controller chips, Microsoft dropped a plan to build InfiniBand management tools into its Windows .Net Server 2003 operating system, and IBM shelved plans to develop stand-alone InfiniBand chips. But each vendor also said it would back the technology for its products.
With IBM's announcement, an analyst at Enterprise Storage Group, Tony Prigmore, predicted that InfiniBand would make headway as a core infrastructure technology by the end of the year.
"It definitely will start as a server-based technology, which will have low latency advantages for applications," Prigmore said. "After that, you'll see people say, 'If I have it in the server infrastructure, I need to have it in my network fabric, and if I have it on one side of the fabric, I'll need to have it on this side.'"
Topspin currently sells a line of switches that runs from low-end products starting at $US10,000 with 12 InfiniBand ports and one gateway port for use with Ethernet or Fibre Channel all the way up to a 96-port switch that costs more than $US60,000.
Program director of eServer Technologies at IBM, Brendan Coffey, said the InfiniBand initiative is twofold: The company is seeking a convergence technology to deploy across all servers and storage platforms, giving it an alternative to Ethernet and Fibre Channel, and IBM wants to deploy what it considers a soon to be leading interconnect technology.
"It meets the requirements of customers looking more and more for open systems," Coffey said. "It provides a low enough latency that clustered databases don't have to take a performance hit. Having a technology like InfiniBand ... means everything happens faster."