Exploration into Infiniband

By June 5, 2008 DCIG, InfiniBand, iSCSI

I believe a new way on thinking should be applied to the deployment on Infiniband technology in the storage landscape. Most of you probably think of Infiniband as predominately a backend transport for storage, and/or the interconnection mechanism for high compute clusters (HPC). Or, “Oh yeah, I heard something about that 5-6 years ago, isn’t that only used in super-computing or giant research labs?” Let’s first break down some of the basics of Infiniband: 

  • It is a channel-based, switch fabric, interconnect architecture for compute and I/O
  • It is extremely high speed and low latency fabric (10Gb/s and 20Gb/s now with 40Gb/s coming)
  • It leverages the ability to consolidate storage, clusters, networking and management over the same fabric

Some of the real grass roots benefits in the deployment of Infiniband are:

  • Higher performance than any other I/O transport available today
  • Massive consolidation of cabling infrastructures to your servers
    • As one Infiniband HCA (Host Channel Adapter) can service compute, clustering, storage, and networking
    • (Think about that for a second, especially when you consider the amount of cabling required for a VMware server this can reduce the amount of heat generated in the backend of a server-rack, as well as provide a well-groomed, clean and easy to manage cable plant.)
    • Infiniband is inherently much more cost effective from a power consumption point of view as well. 

There are a number of very attractive use cases for Infiniband which can apply to many aspects of your current storage infrastructure. The augmentation of your existing storage network with the use of an Infiniband gateway to provide a transport for I/O from your servers into the Fibre Channel and/or iSCSI fabrics. This allows you to maintain your protection in those FC and iSCSI investments. Based on the performance characteristics of Infiniband, you will not see the bottlenecks as have been seen with many other traditional gateway technologies (e.g. FC-to-SCSI Bridges).

When you sit down to start planning your next-gen storage landscape for your organization, I encourage you to do some research, talk to your manufacturers, and see how their roadmaps and product sets align with Infiniband. I think you will be presently surprised how many of them are already using it and plan to extend its reach.

I know many of you are probably saying to yourself, “Fibre Channel and Ethernet are way too embedded into my environment to even begin to think about adding an Infiniband layer”. Just weigh some of the basic facts I have mentioned in this blog like low latency, speed, traffic aggregation for FC and Ethernet, and cost, and keep your mind open.  

There are a number of useful links that provide a great amount of detail around Infiniband:

 https://www.infinibandta.org/home

 https://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/network/2002/02/04/windows.html

In future segments I will cover these use-cases for Infiniband in greater detail so you will have all the ammunition you need to move forward.

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Tim Anderson

About Tim Anderson

Tim serves as a Senior Analyst HA/Infrastructure for DCIG

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