Isilon Embraces InfiniBand

Adds InfiniBand to GigE as interconnect option for extra bandwidth to support large files

April 5, 2005

2 Min Read
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Isilon Systemsrolled out new clustered NAS systems today, offering InfiniBand connectivity. The news suggests there might be a role for InfiniBand beyond high-performance computing and supercomputers.

Isilon will offer InfiniBand switches from Mellanox Technologies Ltd. and Topspin Communications Inc. to connect storage nodes in its new IQ 1920i, 300i, and 4800i systems. Previous Isilon IQ Systems required Gigabit Ethernet switches.

Mellanox and Topspin have partnerships with server vendors that take them into HPC and supercomputing sites. The InfiniBand suppliers are banking on their technology's 10-Gbit/s speed to broaden its reach (see Mellanox Stakes 10-Gig Claim, Hitachi Picks Topspin for Blades, Topspin Works With HP, and IBM Puts Topspin on Blades).

InfiniBand is considered an underachiever as a storage technology. Three years ago, its proponents predicted it would replace Fibre Channel in SANs, but it has been relegated to a niche role (see InfiniBand: The Battle for I/O Hill and Whither InfiniBand?).

One analyst says InfiniBands stock could rise if clustered systems catch on as a solution to NAS’s scaleability problems (see Coping With the Nasty Side of NAS). “Just because InfiniBand never really got off the ground commercially doesn’t mean it won’t,” says The Clipper Group Inc. managing director Mike Kahn. “A lot of people will be looking to use InfiniBand as a backbone for clustered storage, so it will come into bigger play.”Clustered storage allows for larger file systems used in applications for vertical markets such as digital media, oil and gas exploration, and life sciences. Other NAS players such as Exanet Inc., Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP), Panasas Inc., and Xiotech Corp. have embraced clustered file systems, but none have native InfiniBand support between clusters.

Given InfiniBand’s track record, Isilon isn’t betting the farm on it. It will offer customers the choice of InfiniBand or Gigabit Ethernet switches between modes. Yet Isilon CTO Sujal Patel says he expects 90 percent of his customers to use InfiniBand solely or in combination with GigE. Patel says Isilon will try to make InfiniBand as easy as possible for customers. It will cost the same as Gigabit Ethernet connections while providing higher bandwidth and requiring no adapter cards. While 10-Gigabit Ethernet matches InfiniBand’s bandwidth, it remains far more expensive.

“Our customers don’t have to understand InfiniBand, and they don’t have to like InfiniBand,” Patel says. “They don’t even have to know it’s running.”

Isilon also added load balancing software to its OneFS file system and increased the capacity for a single file system from 150 TBytes to 168 TBytes.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch0

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