The InfiniBand-Wagon Starts Here

By Michael Feldman

June 17, 2008

The International Supercomputing Conference officially begins tomorrow morning, but the opening festivities for the exhibitors took place this evening. A quick tour of the exhibition floor revealed the latest HPC wares from all vendors great and small.

IBM has Roadrunner and Blue Gene/P parts on display: a tri-blade node containing the Opteron and Cell blades, and some PowerPC boards, respectively. HP is showing off the company’s new dual-server blades it announced in May. A cluster of them was rendering an automobile at a level of detail that made it nearly impossible to tell that you weren’t watching a video of a real car.

A lot of exhibitor activity, though, was centered on InfiniBand. News and demos of the HPC fabric abound at ISC this year.

Mellanox is talking about its latest QDR (40 Gbps) switch silicon, announced last Monday. If you missed that news it’s because that was the same day LANL and IBM announced that Roadrunner had broken the petaflop barrier. Unfortunate timing for Mellanox.. Ironically, the IBM Roadrunner uses Mellanox-based Voltaire switches to lash the machine’s compute nodes together.

This week Voltaire is spotlighting its new QDR InfiniBand switches, which are due to be released into the wild in Q3. The company also just announced that its switches will support the newly minted Engenio 7900 HPC storage system from LSI.

Earlier today, QLogic released its new DDR InfiniBand HCA based on the company’s TrueScale ASIC. A QDR version is forthcoming later this year says the company. The TrueScale DDR and QDR HCAs will eventually displace QLogic’s SDR InfiniPath (PathScale) as 10 Gbps InfiniBand phases out. Mellanox and QLogic have somewhat different views of the IB market. I hope to elaborate on this in future coverage, but for now, suffice to say that QLogic thinks its approach will yield the highest performing and most cost competitive IB adapters in the market.

The 40 Gbps optical cable vendors are warming up to QDR too. EMCORE (who took over Intel’s Connects Cables business) and Luxtera are showing their 40 Gbps cables this week at ISC. Each vendor will be exercising its products in tandem with Mellanox gear.

Also today, ADVA Optical Networking, Obsidian Strategics and Voltaire announced they have demonstrated an SDR InfiniBand link over a 50km distance. The test was performed at the University of Stuttgart’s High Performance Computing Center (HLRS). Obsidian and Network Equipment Technologies have been developing long-distance IB for awhile now, but outside the DoD and U.S. intelligence community, the technology hasn’t taken off. Something to keep an eye on.

Looking further into the future, the InfiniBand Trade Association (IBTA) has unveiled its technology roadmap for the next three years. In 2011, Eight Data Rate (EDR) will be the new standard, which will support 80 Gbps (8X EDR) node-to-node and 240 Gbps (12X EDR) switch-to-switch, effectively doubling QDR. EDR InfiniBand products should be hitting the streets about the same time 40 Gigabit Ethernet products appear. Beyond that, the IBTA is looking at Hexadecimal Data Rate (HDR), but no dates have been decided.

Tomorrow, the TOP500 …

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