IBM Adds InfiniBand Option to SoftLayer Cloud

By Tiffany Trader

July 23, 2014

IBM announced that InfiniBand will be added as a networking option on its SoftLayer cloud computing servers in the third quarter of this year. InfiniBand supports data transfer speeds as fast as 56 gigabits per second, fast enough to transfer the contents of a library of 30,000 Blu-ray discs in 24 hours. It’s the same technology that’s used by 222 of the current reining TOP500 supercomputers.

Providing the industry standard InfiniBand networking technology will enable high data throughput speeds between systems in support HPC workloads, including life sciences and genomics, computer aided engineering, financial services, electronics design and reservoir simulation.

“As more and more companies migrate their toughest workloads to the cloud, they’re now demanding that vendors provide high speed networking performance to keep up,” said SoftLayer CEO Lance Crosby. “Our InfiniBand support is helping to push the technological envelope while redefining how cloud computing can be used to solve complex business issues.”

The use of such exotic technologies have traditionally been limited to the upper echelons of supercomputing, the one-percenters of the computing world, but the boundaries have been blurring between traditional HPC and enterprise computing.

The advance of HPC delivered as cloud model hasn’t happened overnight. Companies like Amazon, Microsoft, PEER1, and Penguin Computing have been pushing the technical envelope in an attempt to appeal to HPC users. Some of those efforts have included the addition of GPUs, powerful CPUs, fast networking and so-called bare metal servers.

Softlayer, which was acquired by IBM last year for $2 billion, was one of the first of these providers to target HPC workloads and certain enterprise needs with bare metal instances, which provide some of the advantages of cloud, such as flexibility, provisioning, and on-demand billing, without the overhead of a hypervisor.

InfiniBand in the cloud is by no means widespread, but Softlayer isn’t the first to deploy the fast networking protocol. Launched in 2012, IaaS provider ProfitBricks runs its servers on an InfiniBand backbone, enabling connection speeds up to 80 times higher than competitors according to the company. Atlantic.Net, a cloud hosting provider with datacenters in Dallas and Florida, upgraded its infrastructure with InfiniBand in late 2012.

Microsoft Azure also touts the high-speed protocol. The software company made a splash at SC13 when it previewed InfiniBand-backed instances for its Azure service. Azure rolled out the service in February of this year under the A8 and A9 instance types.

IBM announced earlier this year that it was investing $1.2 billion to expand its global cloud portfolio with SoftLayer at the centerpiece of that effort. This is all part of the company’s goal to achieve $7 billion in annual cloud revenue by 2015.

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