Ethernet, InfiniBand Musings

By Michael Feldman

March 7, 2008

There seems to be a general consensus that the datacenter needs to settle on a unified network fabric. The question is, which one? Today, storage and cluster connectivity use some combination of Ethernet, InfiniBand and Fibre Channel, which creates a hodgepodge of cables, switches and host channel adapters. As readers of this publication are aware, both Ethernet and InfiniBand vendors have staked claim to unifying the datacenter on their blessed fabric. With the introduction of 10 GbE products and the upcoming Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) standards, Ethernet proponents claim cluster and storage unification is at hand. Meanwhile, the InfiniBand crowd is pushing their technology as the technically superior solution and the one that is available today.

Sun Microsystems seems to be getting impatient waiting for high performance Ethernet gear and FCoE standards, and has openly talked about going the InfiniBand route. In a recent EETimes article by Rick Merritt, Sun’s John Fowler (executive VP of the Systems Division) said the company would be introducing a set of products this year unified on InfiniBand. While Fowler admitted they’re continuing their involvement in the FCoE effort, he notes that Fibre Channel over InfiniBand should be available in 2008.

The strength of Ethernet — its ubiquity — is also it weakness. Changing or adding standards involves dragging the whole vendor community along. Look at how long the IEEE study group took just to decide to move forward on the 40GbE/100GbE standards. That process began in 2006 and standards aren’t expected to be completed until mid-2010. And while vendors may come up with proprietary versions of FCoE relatively soon, the standard is still being hashed out by the vendor and user communities. Not only does the process suffer from a “too many cooks in the kitchen” problem, but the cooks themselves are competing with one another.

Meanwhile, the more nimble InfiniBand community has been able to establish its high bandwidth, low-latency fabric as the standard for high performance interconnects. Mellanox has used its position as the only InfiniBand switch silicon vendor to set the pace. With DDR (20 Gbps) products now mainstream and QDR (40 Gbps) products due out at the end of this year, InfiniBand has left 10GbE behind from the standpoint of raw performance.

Increasingly, the InfiniBand vendors that have traditionally focused on the HPC market are looking at the broader enterprise marker. A couple of weeks ago at VMworld Europe, Mellanox announced that it is seeing demand for unified InfiniBand I/O in VMware environments. The company is reporting interest from sectors such as banking, managed hosting services, Web 2.0, insurance services and health care.

In the above mentioned EETimes piece, Sun Chief Architect Andy Bechtolsheim also points to the performance advantages of InfiniBand and, like Fowler, thinks InfiniBand may be the fabric that first swallows up Fibre Channel for storage connectivity. It’s a bit ironic that Bechtolsheim would be so enthusiastic about InfiniBand. A co-founder of Sun, he left the company in 1995 to start Granite Systems, a gigabit Ethernet switch vendor. A year later Cisco bought the company for $220 million. Now back at Sun, Bechtolsheim doesn’t seem to retain any nostalgia for his Ethernet roots. His most recent InfiniBand project, the 3,456 double data rate (DDR) Magnum switch, which powers the Sun Constellation “Ranger” supercomputer at TACC, is an example of Bechtolsheim’s enthusiasm for the technology.

The fact that he’s now bullish on InfiniBand should give unified fabric Ethernet enthusiasts something to think about. A shrewd investor, Bechtolsheim always seems to know which way the tech wind is blowing. As one of the original backers of Google, he turned a $100,000 investment into $1.5 billion. But like any accomplished investor, Bechtolsheim knows when to hedge his bets. He recently turned up as a backer for Arastra Inc., a vendor that has recently announced a high density, low-latency 10GbE switch for the datacenter.

In fact, almost everyone is expecting Ethernet to become the standard datacenter fabric … eventually. Even InfiniBand-loving Mellanox is hedging. The company’s recently announced ConnectX EN 10GigE NIC adapters are a nod to the ubiquity of Ethernet-based applications. And the ConnectX architecture is explicitly designed to support both InfiniBand and Ethernet connectivity on the same adapter. Essentially, the Mellanox approach is about unifying data traffic on a single I/O pipe rather than on a single protocol.

So is the fix in for Ethernet? Maybe not. As virtualization takes hold in the datacenter, the demand for ever more bandwidth and ever less latency is growing and some users can’t wait for 10GbE to get their act together. As John Lennon once said: “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans” (or writing standards). Even mainstream technologies can collapse under their own weight (e.g., mainframes) or split up into a confusing array of variations (e.g., Unix). And let’s face it, if Ethernet gets pushed to the edge of the datacenter, civilization would manage to survive. But still, that scenario seems unlikely.

As I reported at the end of 2007, the Ethernet crowd thinks this year will be the one when 10GbE gets traction in the datacenter and even starts cutting away at InfiniBand’s dominance in supercomputing. But they’ve made that claim before. Sometimes, when I observe how the InfiniBand vendors are courting the OEMs, I’m reminded of the 2005 movie “Wedding Crashers.” Near the end of the story, lovestruck Owen Wilson pleads with Rachel McAdams: “I’m not standing here asking you to marry me. I’m just asking you not to marry him,” referring to McAdams’ obnoxious fiance. But while InfiniBand may be the HPC sentimental favorite, it might not be as fortunate as Wilson in getting that Hollywood ending.

As always, comments about HPCwire are welcomed and encouraged. Write to me, Michael Feldman, at [email protected].

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

SODALITE: Towards Automated Optimization of HPC Application Deployment

May 29, 2020

Developing and deploying applications across heterogeneous infrastructures like HPC or Cloud with diverse hardware is a complex problem. Enabling developers to describe the application deployment and optimising runtime p Read more…

By the SODALITE Team

What’s New in HPC Research: Astronomy, Weather, Security & More

May 29, 2020

In this bimonthly feature, HPCwire highlights newly published research in the high-performance computing community and related domains. From parallel programming to exascale to quantum computing, the details are here. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DARPA Looks to Automate Secure Silicon Designs

May 28, 2020

The U.S. military is ramping up efforts to secure semiconductors and its electronics supply chain by embedding defenses during the chip design phase. The automation effort also addresses the high cost and complexity of s Read more…

By George Leopold

COVID-19 HPC Consortium Expands to Europe, Reports on Research Projects

May 28, 2020

The COVID-19 HPC Consortium, a public-private effort delivering free access to HPC processing for scientists pursuing coronavirus research – some utilizing AI-based techniques – has expanded to more than 56 research Read more…

By Doug Black

What’s New in Computing vs. COVID-19: IceCube, TACC, Watson & More

May 28, 2020

Supercomputing, big data and artificial intelligence are crucial tools in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Around the world, researchers, corporations and governments are urgently devoting their computing reso Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AWS Solution Channel

Computational Fluid Dynamics on AWS

Over the past 30 years Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) has grown to become a key part of many engineering design processes. From aircraft design to modelling the blood flow in our bodies, the ability to understand the behaviour of fluids has enabled countless innovations and improved the time to market for many products. Read more…

Supercomputer Simulations Explain the Asteroid that Killed the Dinosaurs

May 28, 2020

The supercomputing community has cataclysms on the mind. Hot on the heels of supercomputer-powered research delving into the fate of the neanderthals, a team of researchers used supercomputers at the DiRAC (Distributed R Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

COVID-19 HPC Consortium Expands to Europe, Reports on Research Projects

May 28, 2020

The COVID-19 HPC Consortium, a public-private effort delivering free access to HPC processing for scientists pursuing coronavirus research – some utilizing AI Read more…

By Doug Black

$100B Plan Submitted for Massive Remake and Expansion of NSF

May 27, 2020

Legislation to reshape, expand - and rename - the National Science Foundation has been submitted in both the U.S. House and Senate. The proposal, which seems to Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Boosts Deep Learning Accuracy on Memristive Chips

May 27, 2020

IBM researchers have taken another step towards making in-memory computing based on phase change (PCM) memory devices a reality. Papers in Nature and Frontiers Read more…

By John Russell

Hats Over Hearts: Remembering Rich Brueckner

May 26, 2020

HPCwire and all of the Tabor Communications family are saddened by last week’s passing of Rich Brueckner. He was the ever-optimistic man in the Red Hat presiding over the InsideHPC media portfolio for the past decade and a constant presence at HPC’s most important events. Read more…

Nvidia Q1 Earnings Top Expectations, Datacenter Revenue Breaks $1B

May 22, 2020

Nvidia’s seemingly endless roll continued in the first quarter with the company announcing blockbuster earnings that exceeded Wall Street expectations. Nvidia Read more…

By Doug Black

Microsoft’s Massive AI Supercomputer on Azure: 285k CPU Cores, 10k GPUs

May 20, 2020

Microsoft has unveiled a supercomputing monster – among the world’s five most powerful, according to the company – aimed at what is known in scientific an Read more…

By Doug Black

HPC in Life Sciences 2020 Part 1: Rise of AMD, Data Management’s Wild West, More 

May 20, 2020

Given the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive enlistment of major HPC resources to fight the pandemic, it is especially appropriate to re Read more…

By John Russell

AMD Epyc Rome Picked for New Nvidia DGX, but HGX Preserves Intel Option

May 19, 2020

AMD continues to make inroads into the datacenter with its second-generation Epyc "Rome" processor, which last week scored a win with Nvidia's announcement that Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Steve Scott Lays Out HPE-Cray Blended Product Roadmap

March 11, 2020

Last week, the day before the El Capitan processor disclosures were made at HPE's new headquarters in San Jose, Steve Scott (CTO for HPC & AI at HPE, and former Cray CTO) was on-hand at the Rice Oil & Gas HPC conference in Houston. He was there to discuss the HPE-Cray transition and blended roadmap, as well as his favorite topic, Cray's eighth-gen networking technology, Slingshot. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

AMD
AMD
ASROCK RACK
ASROCK RACK
AWS
AWS
CEJN
CJEN
CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
IBM
IBM
MELLANOX
MELLANOX
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
SIX NINES IT
SIX NINES IT
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL
WEKAIO
WEKAIO

Contributors

Fujitsu A64FX Supercomputer to Be Deployed at Nagoya University This Summer

February 3, 2020

Japanese tech giant Fujitsu announced today that it will supply Nagoya University Information Technology Center with the first commercial supercomputer powered Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tech Conferences Are Being Canceled Due to Coronavirus

March 3, 2020

Several conferences scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, including Nvidia’s GPU Technology Conference (GTC) and the Strata Data + AI conference, have Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Exascale Watch: El Capitan Will Use AMD CPUs & GPUs to Reach 2 Exaflops

March 4, 2020

HPE and its collaborators reported today that El Capitan, the forthcoming exascale supercomputer to be sited at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and serve Read more…

By John Russell

Cray to Provide NOAA with Two AMD-Powered Supercomputers

February 24, 2020

The United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week announced plans for a major refresh of its operational weather forecasting supercomputers, part of a 10-year, $505.2 million program, which will secure two HPE-Cray systems for NOAA’s National Weather Service to be fielded later this year and put into production in early 2022. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This