InfiniBand to Transcend HPC

Low latency interconnect could leave the realm of coneheads and gov't research labs

May 25, 2007

3 Min Read
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It's been a busy week in the InfiniBand arena, with a slew of product announcements and a bold prediction from analyst firm IDC for major growth in the interconnect technology over the next four years.

Vendors are certainly jumping on this bandwagon, with HP, Cisco, Mellanox, and Woven Systems all making InfiniBand announcements in the last couple of days. (See HP Teams With Cisco, Mellanox Boasts 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, Mellanox Ships Ethernet Adapter, and Woven Unveils 10GigE Fabric Switch.)

This continues the growing momentum behind InfiniBand, a low latency interconnect touted as ideal for storage networking. (See InfiniBand Goes Mainstream and Voltaire Nabs Cash Amid Speculation.) The technology was also the fastest growing interconnect on the most recent Top 500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers, and now appears poised to break out of its high performance computing (HPC) niche.

In a report this week, analyst firm IDC highlights the growing adoption of "HPC-like" applications in the oil, gas, and financial sectors as helping drive this trend. "I would agree that it's taking off in high performance computing and those applications that really demand a low latency environment," says Cindy Borovick, program director for data center networks at IDC, and co-author of the report.

Specifically, the analyst cites "highly computational" applications used to perform complex financial calculations, such as the Monte Carlo simulations run by Wall Street firms. (See Wall Street Virtually Guarded, Cisco Joins 20-Gig InfiniBand Party, IBM's Power Play, and Microsoft Pitches Linux Cluster Buster.)This, combined with recent shifts in the server landscape, is pushing InfiniBand forward, according to Borovick. Some of the applications that were once on Unix servers have moved to x86 servers and need high performance interconnects, she says.

The result is an InfiniBand boom, with IDC predicting that revenue from InfiniBand host channel adapters will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 29.3 percent, from $62.3 million in 2006 to $224.7 million in 2011.

The growth rate for InfiniBand switches will be even higher, with IDC predicting an increase of 45.2 percent from $94.9 million in 2006, to over $612 million by 2011.

Despite this uptick in InfiniBand's fortunes, Borovick is keen to put this growth into context. "Five years out, InfiniBand will still be less than 10 percent of revenue in the data center," she says

The analyst identifies one massive hurdle in the path of InfiniBand, which will resonate with CIOs and IT managers eager to avoid costly network upgrades. "The biggest inhibitor is the tidal wave of applications and the development that has [already] been done on Ethernet," she says.Switch specialist Voltaire, which is rumored to be preparing an IPO, told Byte and Switch that it is experiencing strong demand for its technology, although Patrick Guay, the firm's vice president of marketing, would not elaborate. (See IPO Talk Strikes Voltaire, Voltaire Readies Switches, and Voltaire Expands Global Presence.) "We have been in line with the growth that has been seen in the market, but I can't disclose any specific numbers," he says.

The exec admits that InfiniBand is not going to displace Ethernet, although he feels that the two technologies can co-exist peacefully in the same data center. "There are going to be places where 1-Gbit/s Ethernet is good enough," he says, adding that it is a good fit for more "generic" applications such as Microsoft Exchange.

Up until now, users have given something of a lukewarm reception to the technology, with some IT managers citing cost, interoperability, and lack of user adoption as reasons for not deploying InfiniBand. (See Interop: Mixed Messages on InfiniBand.)

In a recent Byte and Switch poll, almost a third of respondents said that broader vendor support would make InfiniBand a more attractive proposition for their companies, with just over a quarter describing the technology as "a waste of time". (See InfiniBand: Another Look.)

James Rogers, Senior Editor Byte and Switch

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IDC

  • Mellanox Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: MLNX)

  • Voltaire Inc.

  • Woven Systems Inc.0

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