Mellanox Stakes 10-Gig Claim

Claims world's cheapest 10-Gbit/s PCI Express InfiniBand chip, challenging Ethernet

March 1, 2005

3 Min Read
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InfiniBand supplier Mellanox Technologies Ltd. says a new chip can do more for server and storage OEMs than anything Ethernet has to offer.

The vendor this week will announce the InfiniHost III Lx Host Channel Adapter costs blade server and motherboard manufacturers about $69 in volume, compared with hundreds of dollars for comparable Ethernet server chips. According to Mellanox's director of product marketing, Thad Omura, the dime-sized, single-port InfiniBand chip uses about two watts of power but supports remote direct memory access (RDMA) along with InfiniBand to link clustered servers.

Along with the new chip, Mellanox is offering a credit-card-sized 10-Gbit/s InfiniBand adapter for PCI Express that can slot into a server. Pricing will be "less than $200" in OEM volumes, Omura says.

Mellanox claims several OEMs, including Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL), Engenio Information Technologies Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) are already using Mellanox chips in 10-Gbit/s InfiniBand interfaces.

Engenio has also been rumored to be working on adding an InfiniBand interface to one of its storage arrays, which would be the world's first "native" InfiniBand link. Omura claims to know nothing of this, however. A spokesperson for Engenio says the company has no product announcement to make at this time.Mellanox's announcement shows how InfiniBand suppliers see growing interest in 10-Gbit/s in the data center as a chance to show their ability to outprice Ethernet, particularly using serial PCI Express to improve performance on device interconnections. But experts say that won't always be the case.

"The InfiniBand group has a window of opportunity," says Jag Bolaria of The Linley Group consultancy. Until pricing on 10-Gbit/s Ethernet for PCI Express comes down, vendors like Mellanox will be able to claim a price advantage, though perhaps not quite the $800 Mellanox claims over 10-Gbit/s Ethernet adapter vendors. "Ethernet will come down in price substantially even this year," Bolaria says.

Ethernet proponents Neterion Inc. have announced their own 10-Gbit/s PCI Express solutions (see 10-GigE Hits Express Lane). Others, including newcomer Ammasso Inc., which just scored $7.5 million in new funding today, claim the addition of RDMA and other technologies to 10-Gbit/s Ethernet will give it the performance edge that InfiniBand now enjoys.

The question is when. Bolaria says InfiniBand vendors have a "couple years" advance on the Ethernet gang right now, but that lead won't last.

One thing: Bolaria and others don't see 10-Gbit/s PCI Express compatibility as changing InfiniBand's future substantially. It will always be primarily used in high-performance computing clusters, they say, despite hopes by Mellanox and others to crack the storage networking segment as well. Though InfiniBand will continue to hold its own, particularly in blade servers and grid computing clusters, Ethernet will regain its dominance and threaten any other technique in the data center. "Ethernet has proven itself over time. I think it can perform as well as InfiniBand, but it just takes time."That's time the InfiniBand suppliers are banking on.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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