Voltaire Vaunts InfiniBand

IB switch maker set to launch products, says revenues are just around the corner

March 1, 2003

4 Min Read
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InfiniBand may not be all it was hyped up to be a couple of years ago, but for Voltaire Inc., the emerging technology still promises the best of all possible worlds. The InfiniBand switch maker will be announcing a line of products next week that Voltaire says will finally let it catch a glimpse of some revenues.

Voltaire will introduce its new InfiniBand switches, the six-port ISR 6000 and the 96-port ISR 9600, as well as its 400 host channel adapter (HCA). The company says it should be able to start counting out the dough as early as the second half of this year.

The company, which has partnerships with IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) and Hitachi Ltd. (NYSE: HIT; Paris: PHA), says that several of its four current beta customers -- which include the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology -- have voiced interest in becoming paying customers (see Hitachi Bucks Up InfiniBand).

Recognizing any serious revenue from InfiniBand products would in itself be quite a feat. The high-speed, low-latency I/O interconnect was once hailed as a miracle cure for bottlenecks and other network ailments, but over the past year at least the technology has definitely lost steam (see Whither InfiniBand?).

As of yet, none of the InfiniBand players have made much cash on their products. In fact, many vendors in this space have either gone bust or decided to put their InfiniBand projects on ice for the time being at least (see Banderacom Abandons InfiniBand, IBM Kills InfiniBand Chip, OmegaBand Is InfiniBusted, Microsoft Backs Off InfiniBand, and Intel Bails on InfiniBand).And any dreams of an InfiniBand invasion of the SAN space have long since evaporated. "Any storage person who tells you InfiniBand is going to catch on in storage is either being paid to say that or is a damn fool," says one damn industry analyst, who asked to remain unnamed.

Storage aside, observers say that there is still potentially a bright future for InfiniBand in the realm of linking multiple servers into super-fast, low-latency, and low-cost database clusters. "InfiniBand today can provide up to 10x improvement in those categories versus Gigabit Ethernet," Professor Assaf Schuster, the head of the distributed computing lab at the Technion-Israel Institute, writes in an email. "This huge difference is translated to great benefit at the application level when deploying large, tightly coupled clusters."

Adds Schuster, "The general impression is that they provide very high performance, as well as a comprehensive solution."

Voltaire says that the InfiniBand silence following the deafening boom of the bursting bubble does not mean that the technology has lost its appeal. "Theres a lot of [InfiniBand] activity being done in... our partner companies," says Asaf Somekh, Voltaire’s director of marketing. "Today, there's a lot less talk, but a lot more being done."

IBM, it's true, did recently voice its support for the technology, and said it planned to launch a complete line of 4x (10-Gbit/s) InfiniBand HCA switches, along with fabric management software for its Intel-based server lines by the end of this quarter (see Server Vendors Hold IB Pep Rally).There's apparently also a lot of activity going on behind the scenes of at least two InfiniBand startups -- Lane15 Software and InfiniSwitch Corp. -- which were said to be contemplating a merger to please prospective sugar daddy IBM. Some observers say that the happy duo could just as easily include Voltaire. Neither Voltaire nor IBM would comment on the rumors (see InfiniBand Merger in Play?).

Other players still standing in the InfiniBand switch space include InfiniCon Systems Inc. and Topspin Communications Inc. Another company, Paceline Systems Corp., has been actively seeking a buyer and may be running out of road soon (see Paceline Angles for Buyout).

Some analysts doubt whether Voltaire will be able to make much of a dent in the InfiniBand market. "Voltaire is one of those InfiniBand companies that has a shot, but it will be a small one," says Steve Duplessie, senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group Inc. "The market will be dictated by the big OEMs, and as such it would be hard for a little Israeli company to get the nod from a Dell or Compaq. It could happen, but I'd guess the bigger players like InfiniCon or Topspin with more complete feature sets and more financial stability will be the frontrunners." According to Duplessie, InfiniCon and Paceline are clients of Enterprise Storage Group; Topspin and Voltaire are not.

Somekh insists that not only is Voltaire funded through mid-2004 -- the company has raised more than $25 million over the past 18 months -- but that its new suite of products also offers some unique advantages. The six-port ISR 6000 switch router, for instance, is the industry’s only IP-to-InfiniBand router based on custom silicon, he claims. The 1U-high box also supports Layers 4 through 7 functionality with content-based intelligent connectivity between TCP/IP networks and InfiniBand fabrics. The ISR 6000 and the 400 HCA are both immediately available, at $7,000 and $995, respectively.

As for the ISR 9600, Somekh claims that its 96 available InfiniBand ports allow for unprecedented scaleability and performance. Voltaire is not revealing the price of this box, which won't be available before April.— Eugénie Larson, Reporter, Byte and Switch

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