InfiniCon Shrinks Switches

Launches smaller InfiniBand switches with a lot of oomph. Does IB still have a future?

August 4, 2003

4 Min Read
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InfiniBand startup InfiniCon Systems Inc. has launched what it calls the densest and most powerful IB switch family on the market -- but given the state of InfiniBand today, this may be a bit like bragging about having the largest Klingon vocabulary in the galaxy [ed. note: baQa'!].

All three switches in InfiniCon's new InfinIO 3000 family of switches offer 32 10-Gbit/s InfiniBand ports, all squished into a single rack unit. The family includes a standalone core switch, which provides non-blocking, full bisectional bandwidth for all ports, and between 110 and 330 nanoseconds of latency; and two edge switches designed to work in conjunction with the core switch. The edge switches don't offer bisectional bandwidth and have only 110ns latency (see InfiniCon Debuts 10G Switches).

InfiniCon claims its approach -- using different switch configurations in tiers of a large-port-count fabric -- requires literally hundreds fewer switching chips than competitive switch architectures. That greatly reduces fabric hop counts, which in turn allows customers to lower their costs and reduce latencies by as much as 600 percent, the company claims.

Cool as this may sound, the obvious question is whether anything InfiniBand is worth writing home about. A couple of years ago, market analysts were predicting that the high-speed, low-latency interconnect technology would soon rule the world, replacing Fibre Channel in SANs in the process (see our report on Whither InfiniBand?). Since then, however, industry observers have tried to distance themselves from early predictions that InfiniBand would represent a multibillion-dollar market by now, and some have declared the technology dead in the water.

With its new products, however, InfiniCon is addressing a narrow space still considered fertile for InfiniBand implantation: the high-performance computer and database clustering market. "This plays very well in the enterprise or anywhere where there are server farms," says InfiniCon CTO Todd Matters.Matters insists that InfiniBand has simply been going through the growing pains of any new technology and that it has finally found its place. "If you look back at the introduction of any new technology, expectations are always set too high," he says. "First there's a downswing, then there's an upswing. We saw it with FC, ATM... InfiniBand is well past that low point and is definitely on an up-ramp now."

Enterprise Storage Group Inc. founder Steve Duplessie agrees that InfiniBand is set to grow, even though it won't be the over-hyped $50 billion market originally claimed. "[InfiniBand] will be a nice (and necessary) $500 million to $1 billion space, I think," he writes in an email. "While gun-shy, every major OEM is releasing IB based systems. All of them... That means they need to plug into something in order to connect to other servers, and the outside world."

According to a recent IDC report, the high performance computing (HPC) market is set to grow from $4.7 billion in 2002 to $6.3 billion by 2007.

One thing that's going to help this market grow, according to Matters, are low-cost, high-performance products like InfiniCon's 3000 switch family. "Our new price point will help facilitate rapid growth," he asserts.

The 32-port core switch has a list price of $27,995, or about $875 a port. "That's 10 gigabits of bandwidth for only $875," Matters says. The company is not releasing the pricing for the two edge switches yet, but Matters says they will be considerably cheaper.The company also insists that the compact size of its switches will help companies conserve data-center floor space. InfiniCon claims that a 512-port fabric built on its 3000 switches takes up only 25 percent of the rack space required for competitive solutions. Other companies that play in this space include Fabric Networks Inc., Topspin Communications Inc., and Voltaire Inc.

InfiniCon's new switching family also allows customers to scale the number of ports they use as demand rises. The core switch has 16 active ports and 16 ports that can be switched on through soft-keys as the need arises. Using this feature, called Ports On Demand (POD), customers can expand their switch capabilities in four-port increments without disrupting the switch fabric, the company says.

In July, InfiniCon started shipping a limited number of the new switches to paying customers, according to Matters, although he declined to give even a ballpark figure for how many customers he was talking about. The 3000 series will be made generally available in September, he says.

Eugénie Larson, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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