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November 25, 2008

QLogic Completes Home-Grown InfiniBand Strategy

Michael Feldman

Despite the recent upsurge in 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch and adapter offerings, the InfiniBand market seems destined for double-digit growth over the next few years, driven largely by the high performance computing sector. In this month’s TOP500 list, 28.4 percent (142 systems) are connected with InfiniBand, compared to 24.2 percent in June.

Mellanox has positioned itself as the market leader in InfiniBand technology, and went public last year. The company recorded 76 percent revenue growth from FY06 to FY07, a year in which it recorded $84.1 million in sales. In the first three quarters of 2008, it has already booked $82.5 million.

Not wanting to miss out on the fun, QLogic has been busy building its InfiniBand line-up, first through acquisition (Silverstorm and PathScale), and most recently through home-grown offerings. In June, the company announced new DDR (20 Gbps) and QDR (40 Gbps) Host Channel Adapters based on its own TrueScale ASIC silicon. This month, QLogic completed the strategy with a new TrueScale ASIC for QDR switches. The ASIC is destined for QLogic’s 12000 Series QDR director-class and edge switches, scheduled for commercial release in early 2009. The new gear will compete with Voltaire’s recently announced QDR Grid Director 4000 switches based on Mellanox silicon.

As such, QLogic will be the only InfiniBand vendor offering QDR adapters and switches with native silicon. (Mellanox makes both types of ASICs, but doesn’t offer its own switch boxes). Presumably QLogic will continue to offer their DDR Silverstorm switches — with Mellanox chips — as the industry transitions to QDR over the next few years. According to Kevin Judd, QLogic product manager, the company is not planning on offering their new ASICs to other switch vendors. “We see this as a true competitive advantage for us,” he told me. “It shifts the dynamic of how we build the switches. We’re in control of our own destiny.”

The 12000 switch family is based on a modular architecture that can scale from 18 to 864 ports. At 29.8 ports per 1U enclosure, QLogic is claiming the densest InfiniBand rack mount switch on the market. And at 7.8 watts per port, the company says they have the lowest power consumption per port for a director-class switch. The new gear also has a few extra features, including adaptive routing to reduce congestion and virtual fabric support for partitioning sub-clusters within a system. The latter allows users to apply quality-of-service controls, such as allocating bandwidth to specific services and specific nodes.

Probably more important than any specific feature set is that fact that QLogic will no longer depends up Mellanox for switch silicon for QDR and beyond. Certainly OEMs were interested in having multiple sources of this technology, especially as InfiniBand has became a mainstream element of HPC and has even started to expand to other applications. The fact that QLogic has jumped into this market with both feet might end up accelerating broader deployment in the enterprise.

According to Judd, his company is in a better position than Mellanox to drive this technology to a larger audience because of their depth of enterprise service and support. The company is about three times the size of Mellanox and has an established base in the storage connectivity market. And although QLogic hasn’t released pricing on their upcoming QDR switches, now that the company produces their own InfiniBand ASICs, it should be able to compete more effectively with regards to cost and product differentiation. “We definitely think it’s going to put some competitive pressure on the marketplace,” said Judd.