Interconnects Look to HPC List

Coming report will reveal more InfiniBand - or more of other stuff, depending on whom you ask

April 17, 2004

3 Min Read
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Proponents of dueling interconnect technologies say the record will show their pet products growing at a clip, when figures on the world's leading supercomputing sites are revealed in June.

April 15 was the last day for entries to the Top 500 Supercomputer Sites, an online listing of the world's largest high-performance computing (HPC) sites, which has been renewed regularly since 1993 by representatives from the University of Mannheim in Germany; the University of Tennessee; and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center in the U.S.

Currently, the Top 500 is renewed twice yearly; the last list was issued in November 2003, and the next Top 500 is set to be unveiled in June at the International Supercomputer Conference in Heidelberg, Germany.

The supercomputing market is vigorously pursued by interconnect vendors, which generally view it as a niche where wins result not only in financial payoffs (one vendor's estimate, based on figures from IDC, puts the market size at about $500 million annually), but in unique visibility, contacts, and prestige.

In one camp are the InfiniBand suppliers, such as InfiniCon Systems Inc., Topspin Communications Inc., and Voltaire Inc., which say their technology is specially tailored for use in supercomputer clusters. At least one maker of InfiniBand products says the new Top 500 roster will reveal substantially more major supercomputing sites using InfiniBand. "I think you'll see in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 sites using InfiniBand," says Chuck Foley, executive VP at InfiniCon.According to the Top 500 Website, the last iteration of the list had just three sites reporting specific InfiniBand links: Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, andVirginia Tech.

In contrast, most other sites reported using proprietary interconnections from the likes of Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), as well as so-called openly available solutions from Myricom Inc., Quadrics, and others. A substantial number of sites -- a keyword search produced 50 -- list Ethernet as part of the setup.

Of the world's five largest supercomputing sites (Japan's Earth Simultator Center, Los Alamos, Virginia Tech, NCSA, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory), two, Los Alamos and Virginia Tech, list InfiniBand as an interconnect, though these sites also use other technologies. Foley says more large sites should show up, of which a few will be from the Asia/Pacific region, such as the China Education and Research Grid. He says Asia/Pac sites seem more open to InfiniBand because their infrastructures are relatively new, and participants aren't heavily invested in other technologies.

One InfiniBand competitor begs to differ with this view. Chuck Seitz, CEO and CTO of Myricom, thinks there will still be only a handful of InfiniBand sites (like, five) when the Top 500 rolls out. "They told us a year ago we'd see dozens of InfiniBand sites," he says. "We saw three."

Seitz has his own axe to grind: He claims there were 194 Myrinet-equipped sites in last November's Top 500, including 73 right from his company, plus another 121 via a product OEM'd by Hewlett-Packard, namely HP's HyperFabric link for its Superdome supercomputers.Seitz points out that organizations like the U.S. national labs have multiple supercomputing systems entered in the Top 500, so one might have Myrinet while another has Ethernet or another interconnect.

Until the figures actually materialize, speculation is moot. And at least one spokesman from the Top 500, Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee, isn't offering more than a reference to the general list.

But one thing is clear: Interconnect vendors care about supercomputing, and they're willing to fight for a piece of the action.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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