Is there space for InfiniBand in your datacenter?

Intel's move into the InfiniBand market may herald broader integration of this high-performance interconnect technology.

Intel's announcement yesterday that they were acquiring the InfiniBand technology assets from QLogic Corp. adds an interesting twist to the future of datacenter computing, from HPC applications to the standards for datacenter interconnects and appliance devices. Intel is looking to expand the use of InfiniBand beyond high-performance computing but will continue to support QLogic's existing InfiniBand customers with boards and logic.

While there is some question in the general purpose computing world over the value of a niche performance product like InfiniBand when 10 GbE and 40GbE products are much more mainstream and can meet the majority of business computing performance and network latency needs, the core HPC market for InfiniBand isn't going away. And from that base, Intel has the opportunity to move the technology that is InfiniBand into more general purpose network and switching fabrics.

But it's not as simple as building ASICs and chipsets for InfiniBand devices.  By acquiring this technology Intel also has a jumpstart in Integrating InfiniBand into their motherboard chipsets and eventually integrating the InfiniBand support directly into the CPU.

This isn't a farfetched or even an uneconomical move by Intel. They predict that the HPC market, in the form of the top 100 supercomputers, would alone use a number of CPUs equivalent to today's entire CPU market by 2018.  That's a lot of processors, and direct support for the top switching and interconnect fabric would make Intel CPUs a dominant player in that market.

This would also be the logical continuation of the basic idea that motivated the InfiniBand concept; to integrate desktop, servers, and storage into a single high performance switched fabric. And end-to-end common interconnect system from user to datacenter with very high performance. And the acquisition of these QLogic assets also increases Intel's portfolio of patents and engineering skills in an area where they see significant importance.

While QLogic is a major player in the InfiniBand market, the market leader is Mellanox Technololgies, the provider of choice for Oracle and their Exadata database clusters.  Oracle likes the Mellanox product so much that they took a 10% stake in the company last year, hoping, I'm sure, to get some control over this enabling technology for their premier database product.

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