Infiniband is a niche,but an important one that supports critical inter-process communications (IPC) and clustered systems applications. Infiniband represent a small fraction of the port shipments in any given year-- roughly an order of magnitude smaller than the number of shipments of FC ports. Ethernet dominates the market and ships hundreds of millions of ports annually for LAN-based apps.
It's important to remember, however that the strategic fit of these technologies is completely different. Infiniband is narrowly targeted at high-speed, low-latency communications with few nodes and very high quality-of-service (QoS). Ethernet is designed to support hundreds of thousands (or more) nodes with relatively low QoS. FC mainly supports storage network traffic where the imperative is no data loss.
Infiniband supports the needs of high-performance computing (HPC) users, and HPC applications are exceedingly demanding. A big challenge in HPC is keeping processors busy and pipelines full. The bottleneck in many applications is the latency and message rate across inter-processor communications links.
While Infiniband is a natural for classic HPC use cases, increasingly organizations are looking to Infiniband for large applications that need the lowest latency and highest bandwidth-- certainly better latency than 10gigE can provide. Moreover, fibre channel (FC) was never never designed for inter-process communications. A growing set of applications is emerging for Infiniband both in HPC as well as real-time operations in a variety of industries including transportation, life sciences, pharmaceutical and financial markets, which are beginning to leverage Infiniband more aggressively.
In support of this trend, QLogic today announced a broad range of products in the InfiniBand space, including quad data rate (DDR - 40Gbit/s) host channel adapters and switches. Importantly the company announced design wins at four hardware and software vendors:
It appears that QLogic is leveraging its FC presence in key server vendor accounts to attack the competition and bundle multiple products as part of its relationships with server suppliers.
While Infiniband will likely remain small in port numbers, the technology will play an important role in the evolution of high performance scientific and commercial applications as clustered systems gain in popularity and HPC applications continue to evolve.
Action Item: CTO's should familiarize themselves with the capabilities of Infiniband, FC, FCoE and Ethernet to understand their strategic fit and how these technologies will (or will not) converge in the future.