InfiniBand and Fibre Channel: competition or coexistence?

Posted on February 02, 2000


InfiniBand is the latest name for the next-generation server I/O interconnect. It's a switched fabric architecture (sound familiar?) initially designed as the successor to the PCI and PCI-X serial buses. And it's backed by heavyweights such as Intel, Compaq, Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft, and Sun.

Publicly, these companies paint InfiniBand primarily as an in-the-box serial bus replacement. However, based on interviews with Intel officials and, more revealing, Intel's Web site, InfiniBand is potentially much more than that.

In addition to being the next-generation I/O technology, Intel depicts InfiniBand as an excellent server-to-server (for clustering) and server-to-storage (for storage area networks) interconnect. Versus existing SAN interconnects (i.e., Fibre Channel), Intel claims faster speed (gigabytes per second vs. gigabits per second) and potentially lower costs.

At the same time they say that InfiniBand and Fibre Channel are complementary, not competitive, InfiniBand backers chant a "one wire for everything" mantra.

As with any next-generation architecture, timing is critical. InfiniBand-equipped servers aren't expected until late 2001, by which time Fibre Channel should have an impressive installed base. And IT managers are always reluctant to rip-and-replace interconnects, even if there are clear advantages.

Another consideration: Fibre Channel was designed as a storage interconnect (although it can also handle IP, VIA, etc.), whereas InifiniBand was designed primarily as a system and clustering interconnect and is optimized for VIA (although it can also handle SCSI, IP, etc.).

What do you think? Will InfiniBand compete with Fibre Channel, or will InfiniBand be relegated strictly to in-the-box connections? Or is this an apples-and-oranges comparison? Send your opinions to daves@pennwell.com.

InfoStor will initiate news and analysis coverage of this issue next month. For now, we have Richard Lee's Opinion piece on the subject ("Goodbye Fibre Channel, hello InfiniBand?" p. 46). Richard is a strong supporter of Fibre Channel, and he's highly suspect of the ulterior motives of "monopolists" such as Intel and Microsoft. He exhorts the InfiniBand and Fibre Channel camps to move in step to avoid confusion in the IT community, which could in turn stall storage infrastructure upgrades.

For more information on what is sure to be a very gradual transition, see "Prepare for the shift to switched fabrics," InfoStor, January 2000, p. 36."

Dave Simpson, Editor-in-Chief

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