Obsidian Extends InfiniBand

Canadian startup has been hired by the US government to put InfiniBand on WANs

November 12, 2005

3 Min Read
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A tiny Canadian startup has launched itself out of a storage company and grabbed a couple of contracts with the U.S. government to develop long-range InfiniBand. And the resulting technology could find its way into replication appliances sometime next year.

Obsidian Research Corp. has created a two-port, 1U box called the Longbow XR that encapsulates InfiniBand traffic in a variety of WAN links. The startup has demonstrated the prototype box in tests at NASA and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), linking remote clusters over OC192c Sonet networks at up to 6,500 kilometers.

Since InfiniBand is chiefly a copper-based short-range interconnection used for systems and storage within data centers, the ability to extend it so far presents some intriguing possibilities.

"This would allow you to link clusters across large geographic areas strictly with InfiniBand, using existing commercial networks," says a government researcher, who works at a major lab but asked not to be named. There would be no need for dedicated fiber. Applications supporting InfiniBand could remain intact, and various conversion products, such as Ethernet switches, wouldn't be required.

"Okay, it's vaporware, but interesting vaporware," he quips.Obsidian claims to be a ahead of the vaporware phase, though by how much isn't clear. CEO David T. Southwell says the company recently signed a development contract with NASA, in addition to the first one with NRL -- no mean feat given the firm's non-U.S. roots. Further, a number of units are in test among early adopters. Official product rollout will be in the first or second quarter of 2006.

Obsidian has other plans in store as well. "The motivation for development came from the government, but we have interest in a number of commercial angles. Data replication is one," says Southwell. His team is exploring the possibility of creating a smaller version of the Longbow for campus-area networks.

One advantage of using Longbow for replication would be its ability to save processing power. Since InfiniBand supports remote direct memory access (RDMA), it allows remote distinct computers to communicate in memory without tapping into one another's CPUs. (See High-Speed Links Head for Mainstream.)

Another advantage is speed. While Southwell acknowledges that InfiniBand links suffer latency when traversing long distances, the fact that InfiniBand starts out at 10-Gbit/s means that WAN extensions can still be faster than a lot of other replication links today. In a presentation created for NASA, he states that the Longbow's "sustained performance across the WAN approaches wire speed."

Of course, all these claims must still pass muster, and there's no telling when the results will show up in run-of-the-mill data center products. But Obsidian is starting to get noticed. It's part of a wide-ares InfiniBand demonstration set for next week's Supercomputing 2005 conference in Seattle, where Longbow will be used in a live demo that supports RAID and filing control from Yotta Yotta and ties storage from DataDirect Networks, Engenio, and Network Applicance over an InfiniBand network that spans the country.The storage connection is no accident. Southwell was in fact a founder of Yotta Yotta and worked as the company's director of hardware development. By 2004, he felt he had something that could stand separately from Yotta Yotta's original charter to build products around a clustered storage controller. He and his team purchased the intellectual property rights to InfiniBand range extension gear they'd developed at Yotta Yotta (amount undisclosed) and started their own company.

Some engineers at Obsidian continue to support ongoing development of certain technologies in Yotta Yotta. But Yotta Yotta has not funded Obsidian Obsidian in any way.

Instead, Southwell says Obsidian is funded privately, though he won't say by whom or for how much.

Business development at Obsidian is overseen by Bill Halina, an entrepreneur affiliated with a Calgary-based incubator called Acorn Innovations. Obsidian's CTO is Jason Gunthorpe, who also worked at Yotta Yotta.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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