Doubts cast on InfiniBand as data centre saviour

With many vendors now backing InfiniBand as the best way to simplify data centre management, doubts are being raised in some quarters.

Claims that InfiniBand is emerging as the leading enabler for data centre managers looking for a so-called 'unified fabric' have met with a mixed response.

Storage company Voltaire is the latest supplier to tout an InfiniBand-based solution as a way to reduce data centre complexity by converting protocols across data management and storage networks.

Its SR4G High Performance Storage Router product joins offerings from rivals like QLogic in promoting InfiniBand as the best existing prospect for eliminating I/O bottlenecks, reducing data centre costs and improving storage flexibility by offering a migration path for uniting various storage fabrics. Cisco too has announced InfiniBand support this year.

"There are now a number of InfiniBand switches which allow servers to be connected to one switch at very high speeds with low latency and that switch can then transparently connect to Ethernet and Fibre Channel," said Mark MacGregor, chief executive of IT support specialist Connect. "Simplifying the connection in this way reduces the costs of the servers, underused ports and management time."

But he warned against looking on InfiniBand as the only game in town: "Ethernet still shows a lot of future as the unified platform, with 40Gbps and even 100Gbps promised in the future," he said. "It is already the standard for many, many devices and there is a massive base of management tools and knowledge. Advances like the proposal of Fibre Channel over Ethernet will add weight to this."

He identified InfiniBand's stumbling block as a lack of compatibility and driver certification with existing equipment, by comparison with Ethernet.

Pete Nicholls, Cisco's manager for data centre technologies, agreed that InfiniBand is best regarded as just one option: "It has a future, but perhaps it's been talked up a bit too much," he said. "It's a tool in the data centre alongside Gigabit Ethernet and Fibre Channel. We're agnostic as to specific technologies."

InfiniBand, he said, has some great features: "If the environment is right for it, then it's the right solution. But it's not the one hammer that squashes all problems. No single technology will replace any other totally any time soon. There is convergence of fabrics, but it's not a simple answer otherwise everybody would be doing it."

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