InfiniBand Steals the Show

The Intel developer forum kicks off in San Jose this week, and the buzz on the floor is InfiniBand

August 29, 2001

3 Min Read
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The word on the floor at the Intel Developer Forum in San Jose, Calif., this week is InfiniBand. If you havent got it, you’re not coming in. Close to 200 out of the 230 companies registered with the InfiniBand Trade Association are packing the corridors to exhibit their wares.

Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) itself has been hurriedly spinning out InfiniBand chips for a 100-node network demonstration taking place in its booth over the course of the week. “The aim of the demonstration is to show servers, switches and storage devices networked together via an InfiniBand fabric,” says Jim Pappas, director of initiatives marketing at Intel. “And it works,” he says.

The chip giant will also announce an InfiniBand test development kit for hardware vendors and a software lab in Utah, available to vendors creating applications for InfiniBand networks. “This is the major initiative for us in the data center -- InfiniBand is it,” says Pappas.

The 100-node demo includes InfiniBand switches from QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC) and InfiniSwitch Corp. and network management software from BMC Software and Prisa Networks.

Fighting it out on the Infiniband management software side are Lane15 Software and VIEO Inc. Then there are servers from IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL), and Compaq Computer Corp. (NYSE: CPQ). EMC Corp.’s (NYSE: EMC) Symmetrix storage array is also involved in the demo, as are other connectivity pieces from Adaptec and LSI Logic Corp. (NYSE: LSI).But the companies drawing the biggest crowds, according to sources at the show, are Primarian Inc., Mellanox, and the frumious Banderacom: three startups working on InfiniBand target chips that sit in the storage devices and enable them to be part of an InfiniBand network. Among them, these companies have garnered more than $100 million in venture capital from top-tier VCs, including Sequoia Capital and U.S. Venture Partners. It’s a niche right now, but if InfiniBand takes off as a switching fabric in the data center, these companies could clean up. Intel has investments in all three, just in case.

Intel originally invented InfiniBand to replace the PCI (peripheral component interconnection) bus in servers, but with momentum building behind SANs and next-generation storage architectures, Intel is now clearly repositioning it as a network fabric for connecting SANs (see InfiniSwitch Bucks Boost InfiniBand).

“It’s going to be very possible to build networks of servers and storage where the only connecting fabric is InfiniBand, and we have customers that are doing that,” says Pappas. He named SAS Software, a Web analysis software company that has hooked up its data center using an InfiniBand network.

Analysts aren’t so sure. “Intel is trying to push this further than its original design, which was simply to unify servers in a cluster,” says Dan Tanner, storage analyst at the Aberdeen Group Inc.

“They are overlooking human nature and the business factors already incumbent in storage networking. Fibre Channel is the establishment, and if anything poses a threat to this it's IP with its enormous market size, not InfiniBand.”

The Force is strong with this one though. Over the course of the week, Intel is expecting around 30 InfiniBand announcements from companies in this field (see Net App Demos DAFS, Banderacom Demos Bandit, LSI Syncs With Intel, QLogic Builds Infiniband Bridge, and Prisa Gets on Infiniband Wagon).— Jo Maitland, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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