InfiniBand technology set for IT explosion, IDC says

Research firm predicts sales will grow from $95M now to $612M in 2011

A study released by IDC last week indicates a rosy outlook for the adoption of InfiniBand communications technology over the next five years, with sales of the technology leaping from $94.9 million in 2006 to $612.2 million in 2011. Further, the Framingham, Mass.-based IT research firm forecasts that worldwide InfiniBand host channel adaptor factory revenues will accelerate from $62.3 million in 2006 to $224.7 million in 2011.

The InfiniBand Trade Association (IBTA) funded the report.

The growth will be fueled by demand for the technology to support financial and commercial applications running on high-performance computing systems, growing virtualization and cluster deployments, and expanding server, database and storage infrastructure workloads, according to the report.

InfiniBand supporters said the technology is spreading because of a variety of factors.

Jim Pappas, director of initiative marketing in the enterprise platforms group at chip maker Intel Inc., said that firms like his are moving aggressively to build multicore processors that can be used to boost application distribution across clusters.

In addition, Linux distributors and Microsoft Corp. are adding out-of-box InfiniBand support to their operating systems while the promise of InfiniBand to boost the efficiency and cut the power use of existing architectures is proving attractive to users, said Pappas, who represents Intel on the IBTA board of directors.

Meanwhile, he noted that InfiniBand has been running at around 20GB/sec. for the last year and should see its throughput capability bumped up to 40GB/sec. within the next year for industry shipments.

IT vendors are jumping on the InfiniBand curve as well, the report noted, citing several acquisitions in recent years, including Cisco System Inc.'s purchase of Topspin Communications Inc. in 2005 for $250 million, and QLogic Corp.'s 2006 acquisitions of PathScale Inc. and SilverStorm Technologies Inc. for a combined $169 million.

Pappas said that storage is a prime area of the data center poised to benefit from InfiniBand as the interconnect technology matures. InfiniBand currently supports two storage protocols -- SCSI RMDA protocol, which helps utilize block storage devices over an InfiniBand fabric, and iSER (iSCSI RMDA) for iSCSI environments. 

Both protocols can be used in IT environments that use an InfiniBand fabric to connect servers, he said.

Pappas did note that IT managers need to know that InfiniBand is a complement -- not a replacement -- for Fibre Channel storage networking or Ethernet protocols. "People get confused. Ethernet is the standard and InfiniBand is much smaller. The intention is not to displace Ethernet," said Pappas. "When Fibre Channel was adopted for SANs, it didn't take market share from Ethernet. In the same way, InfiniBand is not meant to displace Fibre Channel in SANs, but there are certainly performance areas when storage needs to be high performance, and we get that from moving InfiniBand to the SAN."

Having already seen a 10% to 15% boost in database throughput since starting to use InfiniBand technology in production four months ago, IT managers at Acuity Brands Lighting, a business unit of Atlanta-based Acuity Brands Inc., are now looking to add the technology to its storage environment. "We're looking into it," said George Goodwin, the company's lead database engineer.

The company first turned to InfiniBand technology because of headaches caused by Oracle9i database rack node evictions running parallel stats on Oracle eBusiness Suite. That hiccup forced the company to bring up its database stats in a single instance window during the weekend, on Sundays.

 "With the increased capacity and not seeing contention on back end we had seen in the past, [InfiniBand] really allowed us to use our existing architectures rather than scale to additional nodes," Goodwin said.

InfiniBand has improved database throughput at Acuity by 12%, which is beneficial for a company completing 125,000 to 150,000 transaction requests per week, Goodwin said. "When you can actually see an overall reduction in average throughput times with something that relatively speaking is expensive, and you look at what you pay for licensing fees and hardware … in our world we'll take that 12% improvement all day long."

Acuity Brands Lighting runs about 2TB of data on its Oracle 10gR2, IBM DB2 and Microsoft SQL Server databases. Its hardware set features Dell PowerEdge 6850 servers connected to an EMC Symmetrix 1000, although Goodwin said a migration to a higher-end storage array, Symmetrix DMX-3, is in the works.

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