InfiniBand and the Enterprise Datacenter

By Tiffany Trader (HPC)

September 9, 2008

InfiniBand was once billed as the foundational, system-wide interconnect to unify all of enterprise networking. While that didn’t happen, the protocol is playing an increasingly important role in the datacenter. With the steady adoption of more powerful business-continuity, disaster recovery and grid computing applications, many enterprises are turning to InfiniBand as the enabler of their most latency-intolerant, bandwidth-intensive applications across Wavelength Division Multiplexing (WDM) optical networks.

Dr. Casimer DeCusatis, distinguished engineer of the IBM System and Technology Group, and Todd Bundy, director with ADVA Optical Networking, are longtime shapers and observers of enterprise datacenter networking. In this conversation, they offer their thoughts on InfiniBand’s place in the enterprise datacenter moving forward. Can InfiniBand co-exist with emerging Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE)? What strategic factors must enterprise datacenter managers weigh in ensuring that today’s and tomorrow’s needs are cost-effectively met?

HPCwire: What are the most important business drivers and trends that enterprise datacenter managers are negotiating today?

Dr. Casimer DeCusatis: First, the pace of innovation is accelerating. When you consider that it took close to a century for absolutely world-changing technologies like the automobile and telephone to reach 50-percent market adoption, it’s just astounding to see what has happened and what is happening with the Internet, mobile, wireless, storage, etc. These advancements in technology are enabling business transformation — look, as an example, at how advancements in storage technologies have fueled revolutionary capabilities in medical and financial networking. And the business innovations push back to drive continued technology advancement. It’s a cycle.

So, that accelerating pace of innovation obviously has tremendous impact on the enterprise datacenter. In addition, there’s the ongoing emphasis on network convergence, for the sake of simplicity and cost efficiency. Plus, there are interesting new datacenter architectures coming out that demand evaluation.

Those are the converging forces at a broad level, and they have come together to drive the most prevalent contemporary vision for the new enterprise datacenter — an evolutionary model that provides for efficient IT service delivery today and seamlessly accommodates change for tomorrow.

HPCwire: What are the technology underpinnings of that vision?

Todd Bundy: There are some basic requirements that enterprise datacenters share, though in varying degrees of importance depending on the business objectives that a particular datacenter is striving to meet. These requirements include unified fabric infrastructure, high bandwidth, low latency, unified cloud management, connectivity over extended distances, security, resiliency, energy efficiency, open standards for multi-vendor interoperability, etc. We can see that the world wants to eventually get to an end state of global networking with zero downtime. But in the evolution from here to there, there will be a lot of different needs among enterprises — and even a lot of different needs among applications and services run by a given enterprise.
Problem: Connectivity Performance

HPCwire: Where does InfiniBand fit into this story?

Bundy: InfiniBand developed out of precisely this type of conversation, and it was envisioned as the powerful, unifying interconnect fabric for business networking.

DeCusatis: So was Fibre Channel. So was ATM [Asynchronous Transfer Mode].

Bundy: So now is FCoE.

DeCusatis: Network convergence is a long-standing goal of the industry. Datacenters have wanted to consolidate traffic onto one network with one protocol for a very long time.

HPCwire: What has been lacking in the prior convergence efforts?

DeCusatis: In some cases, there have been failures to meet the unique requirements of all the competing protocols. Or there has been too much emphasis on trying to incorporate proprietary features. Or critical production volumes and, in turn, cost points just haven’t been met. It’s obviously a very challenging goal.

HPCwire: So InfiniBand failed?

DeCusatis: Not at all. It’s playing a very important role and increasingly so.

Bundy: We’re seeing more requests to extend InfiniBand over our FSP WDM systems in research and education, government and enterprise.

DeCusatis: InfiniBand provides the ideal combination of high performance and low latency for our GDPS STP [Geographically Dispersed Parallel Sysplex Server Time Protocol] environment, for example. These are must-have benefits when it comes to synchronous applications for high-end clustering, business continuity, disaster recovery and grid computing — all of which are increasingly important services across markets.

HPCwire: Doesn’t FCoE stand to ultimately take over this whole space?

DeCusatis: FCoE may have a chance to succeed as the single, unifying fabric for every business application and service, bringing together SAN and LAN. What’s different about this convergence attempt is that FCoE developers think they can forge an industry-standard protocol; plus, the obstacles met in the prior convergence efforts can be anticipated with FCoE. It’s based on enhancements to conventional Ethernet that improve flow control, quality of service and prevent packet loss, so those are some excellent and promising inroads.

But the standard is just being finalized this year, and mass adoption is not likely for at least several years. FCoE will take time to mature.

HPCwire: In what ways is FCoE still immature?

Bundy: FCoE is a promising emerging technology, but enterprise datacenter managers can’t get caught up in the hype. At this point, you can’t just take your existing SAN, put it on the existing low-cost LAN infrastructure, deploy FCoE in the middle and have everything operate as you need it to. It isn’t going to work. Migration to FCoE will require more than just a ratified standard. It will require new low-latency switches, and this means the existing Ethernet infrastructure has to change. And no one is going to undertake a massive, forklift upgrade of the core of their network based on FCoE’s hype. It’s too disruptive and too expensive.

DeCusatis: The best opportunity for convergence lies with a new generation of fabric switches that not only provides these new features at very competitive cost points, but also enables current datacenters to reach their goals without expensive, large-scale disruptions or performance impacts due to increased latency. Convergence technologies must also demonstrate their ability to scale into the largest Internet datacenter applications.

Also, simply calling it Ethernet doesn’t mean we fully know how it’s going to work — and, really, this won’t be clear until we see a good number of customer installations running FCoE. Even at this point, we know that some proposed implementations of FCoE don’t talk about latency, synchronous recovery, continuous availability or longstanding problems such as creating true non-blocking, non-congested fabrics without packet loss.

I know that at IBM we’ve looked at the alternatives, and we will continue to use InfiniBand to meet the application requirements that many of our enterprise customers have in the areas of clustering, business continuity, disaster recovery and grid computing. We will have customers who need FCoE in the future, and we will meet those needs. But the idea that the next generation of IBM enterprise servers is going to have FCoE and nothing else is premature. The wide area networks interconnecting multiple datacenters will need to continue supporting multiple protocols, by extension.

Bundy: What we’re really talking about is an issue of behavior and organization. Fundamentally, the network group is telling the server and storage groups to move all of their GDPS STP channels, all of their ESCON [Enterprise System Connection] channels, all of their FICON [Fiber Connection] and Fibre Channel over to FCoE overnight. It’s reminiscent of SONET [Synchronous Optical Network] versus Ethernet in the voice world. You can go back ten years and hear people who said that SONET was dead — that everything would go Ethernet over optical and applications like VoIP would be adopted overnight. And, yes, the volumes have gone down, but SONET’s still around.

HPCwire: So then how should the manager of an enterprise datacenter go about evaluating the interconnect options?

DeCusatis: You start with the problems you need to solve, and you look at what solutions are available to fix those. Then you start costing out the options that meet those technical requirements. No CTO worth his or her salt is going to rip apart a datacenter without understanding those basic fundamentals.

HPCwire: What requirements would point a datacenter manager to InfiniBand?

DeCusatis: InfiniBand is an especially good fit for areas like real-time stock trading, medical-image analysis, server clustering and other computation-intensive applications that require very high bandwidth and low latency. For these areas, InfiniBand is a cost-effective solution, available today, with proven technology. Because these applications have needs that aren’t met by FCoE — at its current level of maturity, anyway — these InfiniBand applications aren’t going away anytime soon.

HPCwire: In what situations might FCoE be a better fit than InfiniBand?

DeCusatis: If you are fortunate enough to have a true greenfield opportunity, then you can play around with new technologies a little. But those technologies still have to fit the datacenter’s technical requirements. Or if you have a large, Internet-scale datacenter that could benefit immediately from a reduction in the number of servers, adapters and cables, then consolidation of the SAN and LAN using FCoE could make sense.

Bundy: There are environments such as social-networking sites and search engines where the goal is low-cost connectivity, not reliability. This isn’t true in the enterprise datacenter where reliability and 100-percent uptime are critical to running the business. And 100-percent uptime is also the target for the cloud computing arena, where there is a need to move to this type of fault-tolerant environment.

The opportunity to converge Fibre Channel and Ethernet might lead a datacenter manager to experiment with FCoE in a greenfield environment. But in a financial or medical network, factors such as reliability, performance and low latency are all critically, critically important. InfiniBand provides key, uncommon benefits there that are available today.

Most datacenters will need to end up strategically mixing and matching services with protocols based on a host of factors. Cost issues always matter. Access options at each enterprise location have to be factored in to the decision. Then there are the particular application’s technical requirements and the distances to be covered among facilities. IBM’s campus in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is a terrific example. To consolidate all of the buildings, hardware and software focus areas and expertise into a seamless metropolitan area network meant bringing together a wide variety of protocols — including InfiniBand, Fibre Channel, Ethernet, ESCON, FICON and iSCSI [Internet Small Computer Systems Interface] — across WDM.

Just converging Fibre Channel and Ethernet isn’t the whole story here, and it’s not going to be with the vast majority of enterprises. Yes, those are the two highest-volume applications, by far. Beyond Fibre Channel and Ethernet, however, there are always going to be other protocols that serve very important purposes, and that stuff is not going to disappear.

DeCusatis: FCoE, InfiniBand or any other interconnect would have to subsume all of the requirements of all of these competing protocols in order for everything else to go away. This is why WDM is so important in the middle of the network. WDM allows an enterprise to cost-effectively and simply converge InfiniBand-based services with FCoE and the rest of its network traffic.

HPCwire: Will there be one true protocol winner eventually?

Bundy: It’s hard to say. Only two interconnect protocols on the landscape today stand to keep up with Moore’s Law, and those two are InfiniBand and Ethernet. FCoE promises to allow you to consolidate the SAN on the same low-cost infrastructure as your LAN and be as fast, reliable and low latency as InfiniBand — but the protocol is definitely not there yet, and any migration requires new low-latency Ethernet switches. I think this means that InfiniBand is going to be around a lot longer than most people think.

DeCusatis: It’s important that we evaluate these protocols in context of the larger trend toward convergence. Enterprises are determined to ultimately converge all of their traffic on the same, commonly managed, reliable, high-performance infrastructure, and they need to be able to do so as cost-effectively as possible.

Out of these business objectives has grown the FCoE movement, but InfiniBand isn’t going to just go away overnight. I don’t think this is going to be an either/or scenario for the foreseeable future; it’s going to continue to be a case of matching the right technologies with the right applications in a given environment.

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!

Mira Supercomputer Enables Cancer Research Breakthrough

November 11, 2019

Dynamic partial-wave spectroscopic (PWS) microscopy allows researchers to observe intracellular structures as small as 20 nanometers – smaller than those visible by optical microscopes – in three dimensions at a mill Read more…

By Staff report

IBM Adds Support for Ion Trap Quantum Technology to Qiskit

November 11, 2019

After years of percolating in the shadow of quantum computing research based on superconducting semiconductors – think IBM, Rigetti, Google, and D-Wave (quantum annealing) – ion trap technology is edging into the QC Read more…

By John Russell

Tackling HPC’s Memory and I/O Bottlenecks with On-Node, Non-Volatile RAM

November 8, 2019

On-node, non-volatile memory (NVRAM) is a game-changing technology that can remove many I/O and memory bottlenecks and provide a key enabler for exascale. That’s the conclusion drawn by the scientists and researcher Read more…

By Jan Rowell

What’s New in HPC Research: Cosmic Magnetism, Cryptanalysis, Car Navigation & More

November 8, 2019

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

Machine Learning Fuels a Booming HPC Market

November 7, 2019

Enterprise infrastructure investments for training machine learning models have grown more than 50 percent annually over the past two years, and are expected to shortly surpass $10 billion, according to a new market fore Read more…

By George Leopold

AWS Solution Channel

Making High Performance Computing Affordable and Accessible for Small and Medium Businesses with HPC on AWS

High performance computing (HPC) brings a powerful set of tools to a broad range of industries, helping to drive innovation and boost revenue in finance, genomics, oil and gas extraction, and other fields. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Atom by Atom, Supercomputers Shed Light on Alloys

November 7, 2019

Alloys are at the heart of human civilization, but developing alloys in the Information Age is much different than it was in the Bronze Age. Trial-by-error smelting has given way to the use of high-performance computing Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

IBM Adds Support for Ion Trap Quantum Technology to Qiskit

November 11, 2019

After years of percolating in the shadow of quantum computing research based on superconducting semiconductors – think IBM, Rigetti, Google, and D-Wave (quant Read more…

By John Russell

Tackling HPC’s Memory and I/O Bottlenecks with On-Node, Non-Volatile RAM

November 8, 2019

On-node, non-volatile memory (NVRAM) is a game-changing technology that can remove many I/O and memory bottlenecks and provide a key enabler for exascale. Th Read more…

By Jan Rowell

MLPerf Releases First Inference Benchmark Results; Nvidia Touts its Showing

November 6, 2019, the young AI-benchmarking consortium, today issued the first round of results for its inference test suite. Among organizations with submissions wer Read more…

By John Russell

Azure Cloud First with AMD Epyc Rome Processors

November 6, 2019

At Ignite 2019 this week, Microsoft's Azure cloud team and AMD announced an expansion of their partnership that began in 2017 when Azure debuted Epyc-backed ins Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Launches Credit Card-Sized 21 TOPS Jetson System for Edge Devices

November 6, 2019

Nvidia has launched a new addition to its Jetson product line: a credit card-sized (70x45mm) form factor delivering up to 21 trillion operations/second (TOPS) o Read more…

By Doug Black

In Memoriam: Steve Tuecke, Globus Co-founder

November 4, 2019

HPCwire is deeply saddened to report that Steve Tuecke, longtime scientist at Argonne National Lab and University of Chicago, has passed away at age 52. Tuecke Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Spending Spree: Hyperscalers Bought $57B of IT in 2018, $10B+ by Google – But Is Cloud on Horizon?

October 31, 2019

Hyperscalers are the masters of the IT universe, gravitational centers of increasing pull in the emerging age of data-driven compute and AI.  In the high-stake Read more…

By Doug Black

Cray Debuts ClusterStor E1000 Finishing Remake of Portfolio for ‘Exascale Era’

October 30, 2019

Cray, now owned by HPE, today introduced the ClusterStor E1000 storage platform, which leverages Cray software and mixes hard disk drives (HDD) and flash memory Read more…

By John Russell

Supercomputer-Powered AI Tackles a Key Fusion Energy Challenge

August 7, 2019

Fusion energy is the Holy Grail of the energy world: low-radioactivity, low-waste, zero-carbon, high-output nuclear power that can run on hydrogen or lithium. T Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Using AI to Solve One of the Most Prevailing Problems in CFD

October 17, 2019

How can artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing (HPC) solve mesh generation, one of the most commonly referenced problems in computational engineering? A new study has set out to answer this question and create an industry-first AI-mesh application... Read more…

By James Sharpe

Cray Wins NNSA-Livermore ‘El Capitan’ Exascale Contract

August 13, 2019

Cray has won the bid to build the first exascale supercomputer for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Lawrence Livermore National Laborator Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Looks to Propel Parallelism

September 4, 2019

As Moore’s law runs out of steam, new programming approaches are being pursued with the goal of greater hardware performance with less coding. The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency is launching a new programming effort aimed at leveraging the benefits of massive distributed parallelism with less sweat. Read more…

By George Leopold

AMD Launches Epyc Rome, First 7nm CPU

August 8, 2019

From a gala event at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco yesterday (Aug. 7), AMD launched its second-generation Epyc Rome x86 chips, based on its 7nm proce Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

D-Wave’s Path to 5000 Qubits; Google’s Quantum Supremacy Claim

September 24, 2019

On the heels of IBM’s quantum news last week come two more quantum items. D-Wave Systems today announced the name of its forthcoming 5000-qubit system, Advantage (yes the name choice isn’t serendipity), at its user conference being held this week in Newport, RI. Read more…

By John Russell

Ayar Labs to Demo Photonics Chiplet in FPGA Package at Hot Chips

August 19, 2019

Silicon startup Ayar Labs continues to gain momentum with its DARPA-backed optical chiplet technology that puts advanced electronics and optics on the same chip Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Crystal Ball Gazing: IBM’s Vision for the Future of Computing

October 14, 2019

Dario Gil, IBM’s relatively new director of research, painted a intriguing portrait of the future of computing along with a rough idea of how IBM thinks we’ Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

ISC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour


Intel Confirms Retreat on Omni-Path

August 1, 2019

Intel Corp.’s plans to make a big splash in the network fabric market for linking HPC and other workloads has apparently belly-flopped. The chipmaker confirmed to us the outlines of an earlier report by the website CRN that it has jettisoned plans for a second-generation version of its Omni-Path interconnect... Read more…

By Staff report

Kubernetes, Containers and HPC

September 19, 2019

Software containers and Kubernetes are important tools for building, deploying, running and managing modern enterprise applications at scale and delivering enterprise software faster and more reliably to the end user — while using resources more efficiently and reducing costs. Read more…

By Daniel Gruber, Burak Yenier and Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud

Dell Ramps Up HPC Testing of AMD Rome Processors

October 21, 2019

Dell Technologies is wading deeper into the AMD-based systems market with a growing evaluation program for the latest Epyc (Rome) microprocessors from AMD. In a Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Debuts Pohoiki Beach, Its 8M Neuron Neuromorphic Development System

July 17, 2019

Neuromorphic computing has received less fanfare of late than quantum computing whose mystery has captured public attention and which seems to have generated mo Read more…

By John Russell

Rise of NIH’s Biowulf Mirrors the Rise of Computational Biology

July 29, 2019

The story of NIH’s supercomputer Biowulf is fascinating, important, and in many ways representative of the transformation of life sciences and biomedical res Read more…

By John Russell

Xilinx vs. Intel: FPGA Market Leaders Launch Server Accelerator Cards

August 6, 2019

The two FPGA market leaders, Intel and Xilinx, both announced new accelerator cards this week designed to handle specialized, compute-intensive workloads and un Read more…

By Doug Black

With the Help of HPC, Astronomers Prepare to Deflect a Real Asteroid

September 26, 2019

For years, NASA has been running simulations of asteroid impacts to understand the risks (and likelihoods) of asteroids colliding with Earth. Now, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are preparing for the next, crucial step in planetary defense against asteroid impacts: physically deflecting a real asteroid. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

When Dense Matrix Representations Beat Sparse

September 9, 2019

In our world filled with unintended consequences, it turns out that saving memory space to help deal with GPU limitations, knowing it introduces performance pen Read more…

By James Reinders

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