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Why I/O is Worth a Fresh Look

October 5th, 2011

In September, I had the privilege of working with my friend and colleague, Paul Grun of System Fabric Works (SFW) on the first webinar in a four-part series, “Why I/O is Worth a Fresh Look,” presented by InfiniBand Trade Association on September 23.

The IBTA Fall Webinar Series is part of a planned outreach program led by the IBTA to expand InfiniBand technology to new areas where its capabilities may be especially useful. InfiniBand is well-accepted in the High-Performance Community (HPC), but the technology can be just as beneficial in “mainstream” Enterprise Data Centers (EDC). The webinar series addresses the role of remote direct memory access (RDMA) technologies, such as InfiniBand and RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE), in the EDC, highlighting the rising importance of I/O technology in the on-going transformation of modern data centers. We know that broadening into EDC is a difficult task for several reasons, including the fact that InfiniBand could be viewed as a “disruptive” technology, not based on the familiar Ethernet transport, and therefore requires new components in the EDC. The benefits are certainly there, but so are the challenges, hence the difficulty of our task.

Like all new technologies, one of our challenges is educating those who are not familiar with InfiniBand and challenging them to look at their current systems differently – just as our first part in this webinar series suggests - taking a fresh look at I/O. In this first webinar, we took on the task of reexamining I/O and assessing genuine advancements in I/O, specifically InfiniBand and making case for how this technology should be considered when improving your data center. We believe the developments in the InfiniBand world over the last decade are not well-known to EDC managers, or at least not well understood.

I am very happy with the result, and the first webinar really set the stage for the next three webinars which dive into the nuts and bolts of this technology and give practical information on how this technology can be implemented and improve your data center.

During the webinar we answered several questions, but one in particular, I felt we did not spend enough time discussing due to time limitations. The attendee asked, “How will interoperability in the data center be assured? The results from the IBTA plugfests are less than impressive. Will this improve with the next generation FDR product?”

First, this question requires a little explanation, because it uses terminology and implies knowledge outside of the webinar itself. There is testing of InfiniBand components which takes place jointly between the IBTA and OpenFabrics Alliance (OFA) at the University of New Hampshire Interoperability Lab (UNH-IOL). We test InfiniBand components for compliance to the InfiniBand specification and for interoperability with other compliant InfiniBand components.

In the opinion of IBTA and OFA members, vendors and customers alike, interoperability must be verified with a variety of vendors and their products. However, that makes the testing much more difficult and results in lower success rates than if a less demanding approach were to be taken. The ever-increasing data rates also put additional demands on cable vendors and InfiniBand Channel Adapter and Switch vendors.

The real world result of our testing is a documented pass rate of about 90%, and a continuing commitment to do better.

What this means in real world terms is that the InfiniBand community has achieved the most comprehensive and strictest compliance and interoperability program in the industry. This fact, in and of itself, is probably the strongest foundational element that justifies our belief that InfiniBand can and should be considered for adoption in the mainstream EDC, with complete confidence as to its quality, reliability and maturity.

If you were unable to attend the webinar, be sure to check out the recorded webinar and download the presentation slides here. We’re looking forward to the next webinar (The Practical Approach to Applying InfiniBand in Your Data Center, taking place October 21) in the series which will dig more deeply into how this technology can be integrated into the data center and get into the meat of this technology. I look forward to your participation in the remaining webinars. There’s a lot we can accomplish together, and it starts with this basic understanding of the technology and how it can help you reach your company’s goals.

Jim Ryan
Chairman of the OpenFabrics Alliance

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