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A Dynamic Duo

A slew of InfiniBand suppliers are jumping on the 10-Gbit/s Ethernet bandwagon, claiming enterprise users are ready for switches that support both technologies.

Is this a switch of allegiance? InfiniBand vendors say, "No." And there could be more here than meets the jaundiced eye perhaps the advent of a new era in high-speed interconnection for enterprise data centers.

If you think that's overstating the case, consider the following developments:

  • Mellanox this week unveiled an "architecture announcement" about ConnextX, a series of planned adapters aimed specifically at data center managers looking to connect their InfiniBand clusters to high-speed Ethernet switches. Early next year, Mellanox plans to offer two-port adapters that support 1- or 10-Gbit/s Ethernet along with 20-Gbit/s InfiniBand. The adapters will also support Fibre Channel, SCSI, and iSCSI storage protocols.
  • Voltaire released last week a linecard that includes 22 InfiniBand ports and two 10-Gbit/s Ethernet ports. It will be available for server OEMs in the second quarter of 2007. Target audience: enterprise customers. (See InfiniBand Vendors Embrace 10-GigE.)
  • Cisco, which competes with Voltaire and QLogic in the InfiniBand switch space, released management software in June that allows simultaneous provisioning and monitoring of IP and InfiniBand as part of its 20-Gbit/s InfiniBand announcement, geared to attract data center customers. A Cisco spokesperson won't comment on any potential plans to combine Ethernet and InfiniBand switching in one platform. (See Cisco Joins 20-Gig InfiniBand Party.)
  • QLogic continues to buttress its InfiniBand story with the integration of acquired technology. At the same time, it has entered the Fibre Channel director space with what it calls a "core switch." (See QLogic Inches Closer to Cisco, InfiniBand Goes Mainstream, and QLogic Grabs Director's Chair.)
  • Myrinet, a competitor to InfiniBand, last year added 10-Gbit/s Ethernet functionality and interoperability to the vendor's Myrinet gear. (See Myricom Sees Ethernet Light.)

The dots connect in several ways. First, InfiniBand suppliers are pushing hard to make their wares a fit for enterprises, not just HPC and lab users. They claim that industries such as oil and gas exploration, entertainment, and financial services need, and are adopting, InfiniBand for clustering. As virtualization increases in use, they say, the trend will continue because data centers will require lower latency and higher data rates to cope with increased data movement and synchronization.

At the same time, Ethernet continues to be the network of choice, and it's clear that InfiniBand – or any other local data center interconnect – won't get very far unless it supports it at the rates likely to be used in central locations.

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