InfiniBand spec set to bolster bandwidth

A syndicate of industry leaders last month completed Version 1.0 of InfiniBand, a high-speed bus architecture aimed at boosting server and network-attached resource communications. Eight more companies also joined the group, which now totals 218 members, and others announced InfiniBand products in the works.

While end users probably won’t see commercial InfiniBand products until late next year, expectations for the technology are high, since it promises to replace widely implemented PCI technology and significantly boost server, network and storage device performance. In addition, the technology has the backing of IBM Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Intel Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and others.

“InfiniBand will help us achieve higher degrees of scalability and modularity in our data center architecture,” says Gawar Lawal, director of scalable systems technologies at Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. The first adopters of InfiniBand technology will likely focus on using it for high-performance computing in their data centers, he says.

Lawal says the biggest challenges facing InfiniBand will be the time it takes vendors to get products to market, interoperability and the ease with which end users can service products based on the technology. As expected, the InfiniBand Trade Group formed a group to address just that issue.

How quickly end users adopt the technology will depend on how clear the roadmap is from vendors rolling out products, observers say. International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., predicts the market for InfiniBand devices will reach about US$2 billion by 2004. That market represents the hardware opportunity for suppliers to develop and install InfiniBand technology in servers, switches and other devices. That means that of the approximately six million servers shipped in 2004, four million could be InfiniBand-enabled.

InfiniBand products should ease the bottlenecks that even the latest PCI-X-based servers will have by creating a switched fabric backplane that can handle 500Mbps to 6Gbps links and offer throughput of up to 2.5Gbps. Current architectures support 1Gbps.

In announcing its earnings, LSI Logic Corp. said it expects chip revenues to grow by 65 per cent or more this year. The company has announced a 0.18-micron transceiver core called GigaBlaze designed to support the emerging InfiniBand interconnect standard. LSI Logic says InfiniBand developers will be able to use GigaBlaze to make products that use InfiniBand to connect networks, storage systems and computers. GigaBlaze will support up to 12 interconnects for InfiniBand 2.5 Gbps links over copper and fibre.

Amid a somewhat disappointing earnings announcement, Lucent, which joined the group as a sponsor last week, also highlighted its new InfiniBand system chip for speeding up Internet data flow across computer networks.

Crossroads, which recently demonstrated server-free back-up capability using InfiniBand, and makes storage routers for storage area networks, announced support for Veritas’s storage management software.

Together, the InfiniBand technology, Veritas Software Corp. and Crossroads Systems gear will give SAN users the ability to offload back-up and storage management tasks from servers so more resources can be dedicated to business-critical applications. In the storage arena one of the key benefits of InfiniBand is that users can offload these tasks from servers.

Also as expected, Banderacom announced Ibandit, an InfiniBand semiconductor architecture that will provide the foundation for a family of channel adapters. The company also announced a partnership with Wind River Systems, which makes software and provides services for Internet devices.

New companies joining the InfiniBand Trade Association last week include 3Com Corp., Adaptec Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Fujitsu Siemens Computers BV, Hitachi Ltd., Lucent Technologies Inc., NEC Corp. and Nortel Networks Corp. The association is led by seven steering companies: Compaq, Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.