Voltaire Ups Ante in InfiniBand/Ethernet Duel

The next generation InfiniBand FDR standard competes with Ethernet for conveying high-throughput, low-latency traffic

Networking hardware vendor Voltaire will introduce a set of switches, based on the next-generation InfiniBand standard, that should beat the inter-switch throughput offered by the latest versions of Ethernet, the company announced Monday.

While most Ethernet backbones use 10-Gigabit Ethernet, and some large organizations and carriers are eyeing 100-Gigabit Ethernet backbone gear -- the new InfiniBand standard, called FDR (Fourteen Data Rate) InfiniBand, should provide the basis for 168 Gb/s (gigabits per second) switch-to-switch throughput, said Asaf Somekh, Voltaire's vice president of marketing. Voltaire plans to offer switches that use FDR in the second half of 2011.

In June, the InfiniBand Trade Association (IBTA) updated the InfiniBand Roadmap, introducing FDR as a higher-throughput replacement for its current standard, QDR (Quad Data Rate).

QDR can provide 40G bps (bits per second) throughput to a server, or 32Gb/s of actual payload. FDR can provide 56Gb/s of payload, Somekh said. Somekh would not reveal what the total throughput will be, though IBTA asserts that FDR's new rate of encoding can deliver 64 bits of information using only 2 bits of overhead, which is superior to the QDR encoding that delivers 8 bits using 2 bits of overhead. This suggests that total throughput, including overhead, might be around 57.75 Gb/s.

Somekh did not give any details on Voltaire's plans for FDR server adapters, but he did say the company plans to introduce a set of switches that would have three 56 Gb/s channels, for an aggregate throughput of 168 Gb/s, in the second half of next year.

InfiniBand is an interconnect technology widely used in the high-performance computing community (HPC). In the most recent compilation of the Top 500 most powerful supercomputers, 213 systems in the Top 500 use InfiniBand. Voltaire's InfiniBand interconnects are used in 121 of the systems on the list.

Infiniband also is used in the financial services, manufacturing, energy and life sciences sectors, Voltaire said.

The IBTA has positioned FDR as a cost-effective InfiniBand for midsized data centers. In addition to FDR, the association also introduced EDR (Enhanced Data Rate), which will have approximately twice the throughput of FDR and is expected to become available next year. Voltaire did not say whether it plans to support EDR.

Both standards are the latest salvos in the ongoing competition between InfiniBand and Gigabit Ethernet as the choice for low-latency, high-throughput communications. Last June, the IEEE approved the 802.3ba standard for 40-Gigabit and 100-Gigabit Ethernet, and vendors are now producing gear to meet these specs.

Voltaire, based in Ra'anana, Israel, and Chelmsford, Massachusetts, offers both InfiniBand and Ethernet gear. However, for high throughput, Voltaire is bullish on InfiniBand. Somekh noted that 40-Gigabit and 100-Gigabit Ethernet are being aimed at connections between switches, and the fastest server adapters still now use 10-Gigabit Ethernet. In contrast, FDR will bring 56 Gb/s all the way to the server.

"We're basically taking the maximal throughput that the PCI bus will allow you to have," Somekh said, adding that the 2011 release will go well with the latest Intel and Advanced Micro Devices server processors, which will require greater I/O throughput.

Mellanox will supply the processors for the switches, Somekh said.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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