Intel Fabrics Could Put the Squeeze On Mellanox

By Michael Feldman

September 25, 2012

It’s been a good year for interconnect-maker Mellanox. The company has been riding high in 2012, thanks in large part to its dominant position in the InfiniBand marketplace and the surge in FDR (fourteen data rate) sales over the last several months. As a result, the company’s revenue and stock has soared to all time highs. But with Intel now eyeing the lucrative high performance interconnect market, Mellanox may soon face a formidable challenge as InfiniBand kingpin.

Intel, as you’ll remember, plunked down $125 million in January to buy QLogic’s InfiniBand business. The acquisition was part of a larger strategy to build up a stable of high performance interconnect technology, which also included Cray’s supercomputing fabric and Fulcrum’s Ethernet switch ASICs. QLogic was always a minority player in the InfiniBand space next to Mellanox and, thus far, Intel’s ownership of the technology has not changed that dynamic.

Mellanox’s dominance of the InfiniBand space has been accelerating of late, underscored by the lack of an FDR solution from QLogic. Although FDR was on the company’s roadmap a year ago, Intel has not made any moves suggesting they would ever deliver products based on the faster technology. It’s quite possible that the chipmaker will skip FDR entirely and go straight to EDR, the next iteration of InfiniBand that promises twice the bandwidth — 104 Gbps in 4 lanes.

Ironically, Intel has been Mellanox’s best friend lately. The Romley platform, with the latest “Sandy Bridge Xeon CPUs, provides built-in support of PCIe Gen3, which delivers the necessary bandwidth to accommodate FDR speeds. It was the deployment of Sandy Bridge-based HPC machinery over the last several months that Mellanox was able to parlay into a couple of record-breaking quarters of sales. And its stock, which average around $20 per share for the most of the company’s existence, is now hovering above the $100 mark.

Intel, though, is playing the long game here. Recently they laid out a strategy in which they would integrate the interconnect interface logic (essentially the network interface card, or NIC) onto the CPU. The chipmaker intends to implement this new model across all x86 chips intended for datacenter duty, everything from web servers to supercomputers. Placing a fabric controller on the processor would bring the interconnect pipes much closer to the compute engines, increasing energy-efficiency, performance and scalability. It would also reduce system cost by removing the need for a discrete NIC.

With Ethernet, InfiniBand and Cray’s interconnect IP under one roof, Intel has the capability to support an array of on-chip fabrics. Although the consummation of a interconnect-processor marriage for any of these technologies is probably at least a few years away, it has the potential to reshape the landscape of the networking/interconnect market. Potentially, every NIC-maker would be threatened by such a development, inasmuch as it would make discrete network cards obsolete.

But there’s one vendor that is most likely to affected first and more deeply — Mellanox. Given its dominant position in the InfiniBand NIC market, the company would could be directly threatened by a successful CPU-InfiniBand fabric integration. And since QLogic TrueScale logic glued to a Xeon would seem like a natural implementation for an initial product, Mellanox could be forced to defend its turf on a rather uneven playing field.

If Mellanox wanted to counter Intel head-on, it could partner with another processor vendor — say, for example, AMD — and license its fabric logic for on-chip integration. There’s no indication that Mellanox is considering such a strategy. In fact, in speaking with the company, there are no plans in place — at least no public ones — to mirror Intel’s on-chip integration model.

According to Gilad Shainer, vice president of market development at Mellanox, they’re laser focused on their product roadmap, which at this point only involves discrete network adapter cards. That’s understandable given the success they’ve been enjoying as the sole source of FDR InfiniBand, and their plans to maintain that exclusivity with EDR InfiniBand in 2014. “Mellanox is not a company that reacts to things,” Shainer told HPCwire. “It’s a company that drives things.”

Shainer also pointed out that fabric integration is not without its drawbacks. For example, CPU and interconnect roadmaps are not really that well-aligned. A given CPU platform could pass through multiple generations of network adapter cards. Once you’ve hardwired the interconnect to the processor, you’ve lost the flexibility that a discrete card could deliver.

Some of the loss in flexibility could be made up by clever design. The on-chip fabric logic could be architected to support multiple interconnect configurations or even multiple protocols — for example, Ethernet and InfiniBand, as Mellanox itself does with its ConnectX discrete adapters and Virtual Protocol Interconnect (VPI) technology. Intel hasn’t revealed, or more likely hasn’t decided, the nature of its first fabric integration products. But such flexibility issues are likely to be at the forefront of any designs.

One thing that both Intel and Mellanox seem to agree on is that interconnects will be playing a much more central role in computing in the years ahead. Whether you’re talking about hyperscale datacenters or exascale supercomputers, the fabric connecting the computing and storage components will be integral into the workings of these machines. Whether that turns out to be an on-chip integrated solution or not remains to be seen.

Related Articles:

Intel Weaves Strategy To Put Interconnect Fabrics On Chip

Mellanox Roars Through Second Quarter As InfiniBand Revenue Takes Off

Intel Makes a Deal for Cray’s Interconnect Assets


Intel Makes a Deal for Cray’s Interconnect Assets

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!

InfiniBand Still Tops in Supercomputing

July 19, 2018

In the competitive global HPC landscape, system and processor vendors, nations and end user sites certainly get a lot of attention--deservedly so--but more than ever, the network plays a crucial role. While fast, perform Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC for Life: Genomics, Brain Research, and Beyond

July 19, 2018

During the past few decades, the life sciences have witnessed one landmark discovery after another with the aid of HPC, paving the way toward a new era of personalized treatments based on an individual’s genetic makeup Read more…

By Warren Froelich

WCRP’s New Strategic Plan for Climate Research Highlights the Importance of HPC

July 19, 2018

As climate modeling increasingly leverages exascale computing and researchers warn of an impending computing gap in climate research, the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) is developing its new Strategic Plan – and high-performance computing is slated to play a critical role. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Introducing the First Integrated System Management Software for HPC Clusters from HPE

How do you manage your complex, growing cluster environments? Answer that big challenge with the new HPC cluster management solution: HPE Performance Cluster Manager. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Are Your Software Licenses Impeding Your Productivity?

In my previous article, Improving chip yield rates with cognitive manufacturing, I highlighted the costs associated with semiconductor manufacturing, and how cognitive methods can yield benefits in both design and manufacture.  Read more…

U.S. Exascale Computing Project Releases Software Technology Progress Report

July 19, 2018

As is often noted the race to exascale computing isn’t just about hardware. This week the U.S. Exascale Computing Project (ECP) released its latest Software Technology (ST) Capability Assessment Report detailing progress so far. Read more…

By John Russell

InfiniBand Still Tops in Supercomputing

July 19, 2018

In the competitive global HPC landscape, system and processor vendors, nations and end user sites certainly get a lot of attention--deservedly so--but more than Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC for Life: Genomics, Brain Research, and Beyond

July 19, 2018

During the past few decades, the life sciences have witnessed one landmark discovery after another with the aid of HPC, paving the way toward a new era of perso Read more…

By Warren Froelich

D-Wave Breaks New Ground in Quantum Simulation

July 16, 2018

Last Friday D-Wave scientists and colleagues published work in Science which they say represents the first fulfillment of Richard Feynman’s 1982 notion that Read more…

By John Russell

AI Thought Leaders on Capitol Hill

July 14, 2018

On Thursday, July 12, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology heard from four academic and industry leaders – representatives from Berkeley Lab, Argonne Lab, GE Global Research and Carnegie Mellon University – on the opportunities springing from the intersection of machine learning and advanced-scale computing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Serves as a ‘Rosetta Stone’ for the Information Age

July 12, 2018

In an age defined and transformed by its data, several large-scale scientific instruments around the globe might be viewed as a ‘mother lode’ of precious data. With names seemingly created for a ‘techno-speak’ glossary, these interferometers, cyclotrons, sequencers, solenoids, satellite altimeters, and cryo-electron microscopes are churning out data in previously unthinkable and seemingly incomprehensible quantities -- billions, trillions and quadrillions of bits and bytes of electro-magnetic code. Read more…

By Warren Froelich

Tsinghua Powers Through ISC18 Field

July 10, 2018

Tsinghua University topped all other competitors at the ISC18 Student Cluster Competition with an overall score of 88.43 out of 100. This gives Tsinghua their s Read more…

By Dan Olds

HPE, EPFL Launch Blue Brain 5 Supercomputer

July 10, 2018

HPE and the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausannne (EPFL) Blue Brain Project yesterday introduced Blue Brain 5, a new supercomputer built by HPE, which displ Read more…

By John Russell

Pumping New Life into HPC Clusters, the Case for Liquid Cooling

July 10, 2018

High Performance Computing (HPC) faces some daunting challenges in the coming years as traditional, industry-standard systems push the boundaries of data center Read more…

By Scott Tease

Leading Solution Providers

SC17 Booth Video Tours Playlist

Altair @ SC17


AMD @ SC17


ASRock Rack @ SC17

ASRock Rack



DDN Storage @ SC17

DDN Storage

Huawei @ SC17


IBM @ SC17


IBM Power Systems @ SC17

IBM Power Systems

Intel @ SC17


Lenovo @ SC17


Mellanox Technologies @ SC17

Mellanox Technologies

Microsoft @ SC17


Penguin Computing @ SC17

Penguin Computing

Pure Storage @ SC17

Pure Storage

Supericro @ SC17


Tyan @ SC17


Univa @ SC17


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