Renewed Hope For InfiniBand

The technology should get a boost Monday when startup InfiniCon Systems launches its InfinIO 7000 shared I/O device.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

September 13, 2002

3 Min Read

InfiniBand networking technology has been shaken by vendor defections and continuing signs that companies are more interested in protecting their networking investments than in making new ones. But the market should get a boost Monday when startup InfiniCon Systems Inc. launches its InfinIO 7000 shared input/output device. The InfinIO 7000, a device that shunts I/O traffic around data-center servers, supports InfiniBand, Ethernet, and Fibre Channel connectivity.

InfiniBand's biggest attraction is that it's a point-to-point switching architecture that within the next two years will be capable of transferring data at speeds of up to 30 Gbps, 30 times faster than Gigabit Ethernet. Such speed had Microsoft, Intel, and the major hardware vendors salivating at broadband possibilities earlier this year.

But InfiniBand adoption has been a chicken-and-egg dilemma, with customers waiting for vendors to make InfiniBand connections standard on their servers and vendors waiting for customers to start committing IT dollars to the technology before they create new products. "InfiniBand won't be significant until the technology becomes pervasive," says Jim Garden, director of technical services for Technology Business Research.

Microsoft said in July that it would not build support for InfiniBand networking into its next version of Windows because it didn't see companies investing anytime soon in new infrastructure to support InfiniBand. Intel canceled plans to support InfiniBand and Sept. 12 said it plans to develop technology to improve the performance of Gigabit Ethernet. Earlier this month, QLogic Corp., a supplier of integrated circuits, adapter cards, and software drivers used to connect peripheral devices to computer systems, said it would shelve its InfiniBand switch.

InfiniCon's new product indicates there's still interest in InfiniBand. The InfinIO 7000, priced starting at $27,000, cuts in half the number of external connections required in standard, high-availability server configuration, InfiniCon CEO Charles Foley says. Even more importantly, the InfinIO 7000 is the first switch that supports shared I/O using InfiniBand connectivity.

Six months ago, InfiniBand was a really hot topic, but a couple of major changes occurred, says Charles King, a senior analyst with Sageza Group. "Intel said they exited the InfiniBand-switch market because IBM and Mellanox Technologies were making similar products," he says. This is key because Intel clusters are becoming increasingly pervasive in data centers, which is primarily where InfiniBand would be deployed.

But InfiniBand still has the support of major vendors such as Dell Computer, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Sun Microsystems. It's hardly down for the count, King says. "What people forgot was that this stuff is really, really fast connectivity. If you're trying to build a redundant backup in a data center, you want to make it happen as quickly as possible," he says.

InfiniCon is offering a "smart" way to offload I/O from the server, and the company's product should appeal to data-center customers, King says. "If InfiniBand is a way of getting a car from one place to another very fast, InfiniCon allows you to adjust the suspension on the car to drive it more intelligently," he says. "Speed isn't everything, but it sure is fun."

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