Cisco embraces InfiniBand

By Kevin Komiega

Cisco recently began shipping a new InfiniBand-based Server Fabric Switch (SFS) and VFrame 3.0 data-center virtualization software, both aimed at boosting the company’s presence in the utility computing market and moving the utility concept from arrays into the network.

On a basic level, Cisco’s SFS and VFrame software create a control system that allows users to connect and provision data-center compute, I/O, and storage resources across a programmable network fabric.

The technology itself is not new. Cisco acquired Topspin Communications last April and, along with it, a line of InfiniBand-based switches hailed by Topspin as a programmable infrastructure for grid and utility computing, clustered applications, and server virtualization. The switches and software, now available under the Cisco brand, connect servers together into a grid and then provide network and storage connectivity to that grid.

Cisco hopes its InfiniBand switches and VFrame virtualization software will assuage users’ fears of vendor lock-in by creating an “open” utility computing infrastructure, according to Stu Aaron, director of marketing and product management for Cisco’s Server Networking and Virtualization Business Unit.

The industry has been slow to embrace the utility concept for several reasons, such as confusion, complexity, and cost. In an effort to accelerate adoption of utility, grid, or on-demand computing-pick your buzzword-Cisco is attacking the concept from a network perspective.

“The industry hasn’t seen mainstream adoption of utility computing…because each vendor has its own approach,” says Aaron. “We’re providing a server-, storage-, and application-agnostic interconnect through the network.”

However, Cisco is not trying to replace existing utility computing products from server and/or storage vendors such as EMC, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM. Cisco sees its utility portfolio as a complement to the landscape. “This creates the opportunity to bring everyone’s products together,” Aaron says.

The Cisco Server Fabric Switch utilizes InfiniBand technology to connect server grids with shared LAN and SAN resources through Cisco’s Catalyst switches or MDS 9000 storage networking switches. The Server Fabric Switch portfolio includes Cisco SFS 7000 Series InfiniBand Server Switches, SFS 3000 Series Multifabric Server Switches, and InfiniBand Host Channel Adapters. The VFrame 3.0 software supports applications on both Linux and Windows platforms.

This article was originally published on November 01, 2005