Topspin Tangos With Dell

Switch startup has plugged its technology into Dell's new supercomputing clusters

September 29, 2004

2 Min Read
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The InfiniBandwagon received a push from Dell Computer Corp. yesterday. The hardware giant will use switch technology from startup Topspin Communications Inc. as part of its new, all-singing, all dancing supercomputer clusters (see Dell Boosts Supercomputing Cluster ).

The cluster packages employ Dells PowerEdge 1850 servers with Intel Corp.’s (Nasdaq: INTC) Xeon EM64T processors, supporting TopSpin’s TS270 InfiniBand switch and PCIe host channel adapters (HCAs). Dell execs claim the clusters can offer up to 8 Gbit/s of throughput from a single server, which is around eight times the throughput of previous Dell cluster offerings.

Dell is one of a string of vendors to rubber-stamp Topspin’s technology. The startup has been collecting OEM partners like baseball cards for over a year. These include Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), NEC Corp. (Nasdaq: NIPNY; Tokyo: 6701), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), and RLX Technologies Inc.

But despite the apparent popularity of Topspin, InfiniBand is yet to achieve widespread deployment outside of high-performance computing. With its low latency and high bandwidth, the technology was seen by some industry experts as ideal for certain data center applications and storage interconnects. However, most organizations find that Fiber Channel is more than adequate for their storage needs, and InfiniBand has so far been consigned to supercomputing clusters.

And it is debatable whether InfiniBand will ever break out of this role, according to David Freund, analyst at Illuminata Inc. “InfiniBand is sort of settling into its niche [for] cluster interconnect," he says. “The jury is still out on the commercial world -- how many applications need that low latency and high bandwidth?”Nonetheless, Topspin, which was set up by entrepreneurs Ross Schibler and Keith Wilkinson in 2000, has been attracting a great deal of attention over recent months. Part of the company’s attraction lies in the fact that its switches and software can be used to link servers via a range of data center protocols, including InfiniBand, Ethernet, and Fibre Channel (see IPO Talk Twirls Around Topspin).

And Topspin is not the only vendor making headway in this space. Fellow startups InfiniCon Systems Inc. and Voltaire Inc. have also been busy forging alliances and launching new products (see Voltaire, GigaSpaces Join Forces, Sandia Deploys Voltaire Switch, and InfiniCon Launches 10-Gig Switches).

Both Infinicon and Voltaire boast 288-port switches in their armories, whereas Topspin’s largest offering, the TS270, has 96 ports.

Supercomputing will now be the testing ground for these technologies, according to Freund. “The technical computing space is a good crucible for experimenting with these products. Everything will be crunched and burned, and we will see what gets left."

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum0

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