Force 10 Fires Up Low Latency Switch

Takes swipe at InfiniBand cluster market with new low latency 10-Gbit/s enterprise switch

March 25, 2006

4 Min Read
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As users start to ponder the benefits of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, Force 10 Networks is planning to unveil a new low-latency switch aimed at firms building large server and storage clusters.

Could this be an InfiniBand killer?

Next week, the vendor will take the wraps of its S2410, a fixed configuration, 24-port, 1U device targeted at the enterprise market. Steve Garrison, Force 10's senior director of corporate marketing, claims the switch offers 300-nanosecond latency, which is on a par with InfiniBand. "This is positioned as an interconnect switch for clusters. What we have done is to try to copy a lot of the tricks that InfiniBand has," he says.

Indeed, latency has been a battle cry of InfiniBand's proponents. "The volume of 10-Gbit/s Ethernet will pick up, but for now, InfiniBand's way ahead," said Thad Omura, VP of marketing at Mellanox, a leading InfiniBand subsystem supplier, in a recent interview. He says Ethernet latencies of 10 microseconds just can't compete against less than 2 microseconds for InfiniBand cards.

That's why Force 10's claim, if it can be supported, will be interesting. The closest existing 10-GigE switch from Force 10, the S50, offers latency between 5 and 10 microseconds, the vendor says, and it's a similar story for the competition. Foundry Networks' 8X10G device, for example, comes with a billed 10-microseconds latency, and HP's 6400cl family proclaims 11.7 microseconds.If a major Ethernet switch supplier can blast the latency complaint, that could be instrumental in heading off InfiniBand in some large enterprises. As a high-bandwidth, low-latency cluster technology, InfiniBand is seen as a good fit for running certain applications, such as transaction-oriented databases and distributed computing. But, in some quarters, the technology is perceived as adding yet another layer of complexity to data centers bursting at the seams with a plethora of different technologies. (See InfiniBand of Brothers, IBM's Cluster Bluster, and InfiniBand Natives Stirring.)

On the downside, latency isn't the only challenge Ethernet faces against InfiniBand. While Ethernet at 10-Gbit/s is barely underway, InfiniBand products at 20-Gbit/s and more are already available to OEMs. (See Mellanox Doubles InfiniBand.) In some environments, that kind of speed will stay a compelling drawing card.

Still, Anthony Kolasny, systems manager at the Center For Imaging Science at Johns Hopkins University tells Byte and Switch that he wants to learn more about the S2410. "I don't know of too many other [10-GigE] vendors out there with the low latency," he says. "Low latency 10-GigE could be perfect for the cluster we're building."

The cluster, which is still at the planning stage, will be used for computational medicine research, and Kolasny hopes that it will eventually make the Top 500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers. (See IBM Dominates Supercomputing, Invasion of the Coneheads, and Oak Ridge Plans Petaflop Supercomputer.)

The IT manager says the new switch could link the cluster's iSCSI storage systems and save him a lot of cabling hassle. "It could allow us to reduce the amount of network cabling to the cluster," he says, explaining that he could deploy standard Gigabit Ethernet cabling as opposed to a combination of InfiniBand and Gigabit Ethernet."Ethernet is infinitely easier to deal with than InfiniBand," asserts Zeus Kerravala, vice president of infrastructure research at analyst firm Yankee Group. "Ethernet is better known, people use it for WANs and LANs, and there are also no protocol conversions."

Kerravala believes that low latency 10-GigE is a nail in the coffin of InfiniBand. "It is the beginning of the end for InfiniBand, and I could see it being the beginning of the end for Fibre Channel," he says. "If people start connecting storage environments with this, it could let them build SANs on Ethernet rather than Fibre Channel."

Certainly, a growing number of storage vendors are unveiling 10-Gbit/s Ethernet systems as users look to consolidate their network infrastructures. (See 10-Gig IP SANs Hit Bleeding Edge.) More 10-Gbit/s Ethernet products are also on the way. Chipmakers Chelsio and Neterion have been lining up partners for their 10-Gbit/s chips. (See Neterion Lines Up Partners, FalconStor Certifies Chelsio, Chelsio, Open-E Qualify Solutions, DNUK Selects Chelsio for iSCI, Chelsio, Nimbus Promise SAN, and DSG Storage Offers Chelsio.) Also, BlueArc, which offers iSCSI connectivity for its NAS systems, is shipping 10-Gbit/s products, though it is still the early days for such systems. (See BlueArc Beefs Up Titan.)

But Kerravala warned that Force 10, which is regarded as a high-performance computing specialist, could have its work cut out getting enterprises to open their wallets. "The question is, can they create enough breadth within their product line to go deeper into current accounts and go broader into new accounts," he says.

Prices for the S2410 start at $18,000. The switch will be available next month.James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • BlueArc Corp.

  • Chelsio Communications Inc.

  • Force10 Networks Inc.

  • Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: FDRY)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • Mellanox Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: MLNX)

  • Neterion Inc.

  • Yankee Group Research Inc.

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