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InfiniBand in the Spotlight

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A debate over the role of InfiniBand in storage networks is likely to get an airing at the InfiniBand Trade Association developers' conference in Disney World this week.

At issue is whether the technology, which was designed as a replacement for the PCI (peripheral component interconnection) bus in servers, could turn out to have wider applications as an alternative to Fibre Channel in storage nets.

From a performance point of view, InfiniBand has the credentials to do this. The name stands for infinite bandwidth,” although "infinite" in this case means 2.5 Gbit/s. In other words, it’s in the same ball park as Fibre Channel (FC) and other technologies being promoted for storage networks, such as gigabit Ethernet and iSCSI (see A Taxonomy for Storage Networks ).

InfiniBand is also a switched fabric rather than a bus, which means that it’s appropriate for linking together multiple servers to form clusters. Not surprisingly, some folk want to take this a stage further, linking clusters of servers and storage devices -- in other words, storage nets.

The argument against this is that Fibre Channel is already doing the job perfectly well. “Replacing one niche networking technology with another is not a winning strategy,” says William Hurley, storage analyst at The Yankee Group. “InfiniBand makes sense as a bus replacement -- and is well overdue. However, it’s not the appropriate technology to usurp share from FC.”