IBM Strikes InfiniBand Deal

IBM, with help from Topspin, heads with InfiniBand to the good ship enterprise

January 14, 2004

3 Min Read
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In a move that InfiniBand backers hope will nudge the technology toward the enterprise, IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) today announced a five-year agreement to resell Topspin Communications Inc. InfiniBand switches across its eServer and TotalStorage platforms.

The deal allows IBM to resell Topspins current line of switches as well as its future generation of 10-Gbit/s and 30-Gbit/s switches.

“This is not just a dip-your-toe-in-the-water agreement,” says Stu Aaron, Topspin's VP of marketing and business development. “It’s swinging the pendulum for InfiniBand back in a positive direction.”

Or maybe it’s a case of preaching to the converted. IBM has been a staunch InfiniBand backer from the start and remained committed to the technology after a lack of support from Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) nearly killed it.

“We’re very much invested in this technology,” says Brendan Coffee, IBM’s eServer program director.Coffee says what he likes about InfiniBand is its ability to support virtualization, remote direct memory access (RDMA), and data transfer rates of 10 Gbit/s and eventually 30 Gbit/s over copper. “All those roll into a technology with characteristics you can’t find in other emerging technologies,” he says.

Until now, InfiniBand has largely been limited to high-performance computing and database clustering, often in large laboratories. Analyst Arun Taneja of The Taneja Group says Topspin’s deal with IBM could extend that trend into enterprises, allowing them to build their own supercomputers: “Using InfiniBand, you can gang up 25 or up to 100-plus Intel servers that cost next to nothing and build up a supercomputer from that."

Topspin has been more OEM-centric than its two primary InfiniBand switch competitors, Voltaire Inc. and InfiniCon Systems Inc. Topspin, for instance, also has an OEM deal with Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) to provide Fibre Channel and Gigabit Ethernet I/O modules for Sun's InfiniBand-based server platforms.

For its part, Voltaire has gained traction with laboratories. It announced Monday that the Ohio Supercomputer Center is using its switches and management software. Sandia National Laboratories also uses Voltaire switches.

Like Topspin, Voltaire sees action heating up in the enterprise, where Voltaire marketing VP Arun Jain says his company expects to see more traction soon. “The next market for InfiniBand is the enterprise or data center,” Jain says. Another partnership may help: Voltaire has paired with Hitachi Ltd. (NYSE: HIT; Paris: PHA) to provide an InfiniBand solution for Oracle’s Database 10g in Japan.The number ten in that database name is key. “Ten-gigabit is about to be available, and once that happens, you will see the enterprise market take off,” says Jain.

Perhaps the best sign for InfiniBand is that suppliers are no longer embarrassed to admit what they are. “For a while, Topspin started to push themselves as a high-speed networking company that happens to use InfiniBand as the underlying technology,” Taneja says. Now, it's ready to be counted among a growing roster of competitors.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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