Host-bus adapters (HBAs), the cards needed to connect storage devices over SANs, have been marquee products for component makers during the past year. Now, San Diego-based JNI is throwing its weight behind InfiniBand as a technology for networking servers.
InfiniBand can transfer data at 10 Gbps, faster than other technologies. And it can create scalable, highly available clustered-server environments for data centers, using an open standard at a fraction of the cost of today's proprietary clustered server environments. Analysts say InfiniBand will also become the key bridge to both Fibre Channel and iSCSI storage within a few years.
JNI has unveiled a strategy to develop components for InfiniBand connectivity, introducing a family of InfiniStar host channel adapter (HCA) modules that will be available this quarter. The InfiniStar IBP-4x02 dual-port 10-Gb HCA module and the companion InfiniStar IBP-1x02 dual-port 2.5-Gb HCA module are PCI-to-InfiniBand channel adapters that extend the I/O functions of a server outside its enclosure.
More specifically, the HCAs extend the I/O connectivity normally provided by a bus, which is physically in the server, to enable connectivity between multiple servers in clustered and shared I/O environments. They also allow upgrades to the already installed servers to connect to InfiniBand I/O cages and InfiniBand-enabled switches.
That requirement is especially vital for 1U-height rack-mounted servers, which have only one PCI slot for standard NICs and adapter cards. By using an HCA module, these servers can take advantage of shared I/O resources and scale appropriately without the cost, bandwidth and management problems common to maintaining separate storage, communication and cluster adapters.
"Fibre Channel will continue to grow, but InfiniBand will be very important, especially on the server side," says Chris Wildermouth, JNI's director of strategic marketing. "It will change the relationship of servers to the network and enable customers to build server area networks."
While iSCSI will pave the way for widespread use of SANs, InfiniBand will provide similar benefits on the server side for a similar audience. An IDC report estimates 1.86 million InfiniBand ports in servers will be shipped in 2004, increasing to almost 7.7 million by 2005. Major vendors that have announced support for InfiniBand include Compaq, Dell, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.
When InfiniBand becomes more commonly used, customers will be able to scale their servers according to specific needs for processing power and I/O bandwidth, Wildermouth says. That sort of flexibility, he adds, plays right into the hands of resellers.
And because of its relative immaturity, InfiniBand offers another benefit for solution providers. "With Fibre Channel, there's really no white-box opportunity," Wildermouth says. "If your customer wants Fibre Channel, he's also going to want a brand name. InfiniBand isn't to that point yet."