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InfiniBand Ambivalence

Just when things are looking up for InfiniBand, the technology's future is being questioned yet again, as it faces challenges from startups and standards bodies.

Consider the news, for instance, that husband-and-wife entrepreneurs Judy Estrin and Bill Carrico have targeted InfiniBand and other I/O solutions with a new startup, Precision I/O, claiming to have a cheaper and easier-to-implement method based on standard Ethernet (see Startup Claims InfiniBand Alternative).

Because InfiniBand is essentially a new protocol that calls for new hardware, Estrin says users will resist it, and its future outside specific niche applications isn't guaranteed. Of course, Estrin claims her Ethernet-based technology, as yet unseen and unproven, is just what's needed.

Others are looking for alternative standards, including members of the RDMA Consortium and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which are exploring the use of Remote Direct Memory Access, or RDMA, over IP. By extending the link used between processors insider servers to operate over IP, developers hope to overcome the latency caused by TCP/IP and operating system overhead that InfiniBand addresses. While development of RDMA-over-IP is still nascent, proponents say it will compete with InfiniBand in cost and efficiency.

All of this comes just as InfiniBand is finally enjoying long-awaited support from server vendors, including Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW), which now all have plans to sell or resell InfiniBand products (see Dell Joins InfiniBand, HP Enhances Servers and Storage, Sun Heats Up InfiniBand, and IBM Strikes InfiniBand Deal).

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