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To InfiniBand and beyond: How Mellanox is finding a home in the world's data centers

As it continues to find a place with Big Data and high-performance computing scenarios, Israel's Mellanox is seeing its share price heading skyward
Written by David Shamah, Contributor

Over the past two years, shares in technology company Mellanox, based in Yoqneam in northern Israel, have shot up over 560 percent, and analysts are pegging them to go higher still.

But there's no bubble here, according to Mellanox VP of development Gilad Shainer, and more growth to come. "I can't speak on behalf of investors, but from the technology perspective, there is plenty of strength in Mellanox – and there is lots of room for even far greater growth," he says.

The reason for Mellanox's past, and expected future growth, is its position as a key evangelist for InfiniBand (IB), the high-speed communications architecture. Mellanox developed the standards for, and development has been ongoing since the early days of the twelve year old company.

It's a history that's now given Mellanox a headstart in the IB market, according to Shainer. "We are at least one generation ahead of the others, like Intel, which is currently not marketing FDR (14Gb/s data rate per lane) IB, as we are. In fact, Intel uses our IB-equipped products instead of its own in one of its motherboard development facilities."

Gilad Shainer

Many of the big data heavyweights are using Mellanox products, including switches, adapters, and gateways, and its kit has found a home in HPC (high performance computing) scenarios.

Among its customers are Microsoft, which is using Mellanox equipment and software to power the servers that serve up its Bing search results, and Oracle, which uses Mellanox equipment almost exclusively in its data centers, according to Shainer. And, the company makes branded equipment for a host of companies, including IBM, HP, and Dell.

"At this point, most data centers are using our equipment," Shainer says. It's just a matter of economics: "trying to set up centers to process the huge amounts of data with interconnects other than IB would just cost too much in time, money, and equipment," he adds.

While that statement is probably true for the time being - FDR IB, which can transmit data at 56Gb/s, is faster than its main competitor, 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE), and has better latencies – newer Ethernet interconnects, like 40GbE (and even 100GbE) could change that in years to come.

By that time, enhanced data rate (EDR) IB will have become the standard, says Shainer. "If you look at the history of IB, you find that every two or three years there is a ramp-up in speed and capabilities. Since FDR IB came out in 2011, I think we can expect to see major deployment of EDR IB by 2014 or so." With a maximum speed of 300 Gb/s, EDR IB should be able to ensure that InfiniBand remains ahead of the curve in technology and sales.

Mellanox is indeed working on the next generation of equipment that includes faster versions of IB, Shainer said, although he declined to provide more details.

While Mellanox is no slouch when it comes to Ethernet products - "we sell versions of almost all our IB products for those who prefer 10GbE and 40GbE Ethernet, and we sell mixed equipment as well," said Shainer - it's in IB that Shainer expects Mellanox's future growth.

"After building for the data centers, we designed equipment for storage, and today Mellanox is a standard in data connectivity for storage. The next area that is now moving towards IB because of the speed, latency, and price are the cloud computing centers."

Could IB actually replace other protocols? "Well, as a company we concentrate on the enterprise market," said Shainer, he's perfectly happy to leave Ethernet ruling the roost in the small business and home market. "But I have heard about people who are using Mellanox IB equipment in small business and even at home, using it to stream Blu-Ray movies flawlessly."

Whether or not IB makes it to the home, there is still plenty of territory in the enterprise data world for Mellanox. "To many people, Mellanox means InfiniBand," Shainer added – and the company likes that just fine.

Mellanox 108-port 20 and 40Gb/s InfiniBand Chassis Switch
Mellanox's 108-port 20 and 40Gb/s InfiniBand chassis switch Image credit: Mellanox
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