July 2, 2004

OpenIB Alliance: Broad range of companies have broader hopes for InfiniBand

Author: Jay Lyman

Representatives of the OpenIB
Alliance
, launched recently with funding from Intel and aimed at
unifying efforts to build on the InfiniBand high-performance computing interconnect technology,
stress that their goal of a single software stack for deploying InfiniBand
is intended for multiple operating systems, including Windows, HP-UX, AIX,
and Linux.

But there is no hiding the fact that Linux is the hottest OS for InfiniBand. That is where the
alliance -- which includes Intel, IBM, Dell, Sun Microsystems, Engenio, Infinicon,
Mellanox, and others -- will first focus its attention.

"Linux is basically where we see most of the demand," said Mellanox
director of product marketing Thad Omura. "That's why our charter is a
bulletproof stack for Linux."

The group, which also includes members Lawrence Livermore National
Laboratory and Sandia National Labs, said it will work to create a standard
Linux operating system and database configuration, called a software stack,
that will improve interoperability, reduce cost, and decrease integration
time required to deploy IB with Linux. The stack will be open source, and
while there is a fee to join as a Promoter -- like the founding members that
serve as a steering group -- the OpenIB Alliance said others can contribute
without any fee.

Omura said with almost every major HPC vendor now supporting it, as well as
widespread acceptance in major research facilities and labs, InfiniBand has
grown strong along with clustered supercomputing.

Testament to clustering's success came in the form of the latest Top500 Fastest Supercomputers List, which now
includes more than 280 clustering systems, many of which use
high-speed networking interconnect technology such as InfiniBand, and many
of which use Linux.

Omura added that while the OpenIB Alliance will focus first on
delivering the single IB stack for Linux, the companies and other members of
the alliance would eventually like to see the stack incorporated into the
Linux kernel. The alliance is planning to work with main Linux distributors
Red Hat and Novell's SUSE, according to Omura.

Stretching InfiniBand the right way

Stan Skelton, senior director of strategic planning for Engenio (formerly
LSI Logic Storage Systems), said the goal of the alliance is to have each of
the different companies -- which also include Veritas, InfiniCon,
Network Appliance, Topspin, and Voltaire -- focus on its own particular
value add and avoid duplicating the I/O stack at the silicon, switch,
management, application, or storage level.

"InfiniBand came out a couple of years ago, and it was a very attractive
market for a number of applications," Skelton said. "Everybody tried to
stretch it each way. Now it has come out of the curve of disillusionment and
been focused on high-performance clusters as a high-performance system
interconnect. And we're extending it to things like storage."

Skelton also said InfiniBand is growing beyond the high-performance
market and gaining a foothold in more general computing with clustered
Oracle or DB2 databases and similar clustered solutions, where tens of
thousands of nodes make Linux the logical operating system.

"People are grabbing as many off-the-shelf components as possible and
using them as a competitive weapon," Skelton said.

In addition to low cost, low latency, and high performance from IB on
Linux, customers are also taking advantage of the ability to have a single
wire or transport to cluster services with attached storage, according to
Skelton, who said a number of Engenio's HPC customers will be prototyping
the technology this summer.

Confidence, kernel, corporate

Intel initiative manager and OpenIB secretary Jim Ryan said in an email
to NewsForge that the direct benefit of the group's effort and a single software
stack for IB is interoperability of interconnect and cluster components from
various hardware vendors.

"The indirect benefit is it should give IT managers and others
considering IB more confidence in the future of IB because of
interoperability and the efforts of OpenIB to get into Linux distributions
and the kernel," Ryan said.

Ryan agreed that while InfiniBand is succeeding in specialized areas such
as HPC, IB is also positioned to move increasingly into the corporate
datacenter as initiatives like grid computing move forward, Oracle delivers
native support for IB, and adoption of IB continues to grow.

Ryan, who indicated concrete plans for software releases are expected as
the alliance gets to work, offered a little more detail on what the single
stack for IB would look like.

"The OpenIB single stack draws from the existing software stacks
delivered by IB [independent hardware vendors] IHVs and other contributors,"
Ryan said. "The difference is the OpenIB stack will consist of an overall
blueprint or visions for the software stack components and identify the
supplier of each component as well as those that will maintain and work on
the code. Software will be contributed by other sources as well, but the
initial definition comes from the Promoters [the initial alliance founding
companies] within OpenIB."

Category:

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