From One to Infiniband

Infiniband is another advanced technology item that has crept into the daily lexicon of IT departments and is, therefore, something contractors need to know. Simply put, InfiniBand is a high-performance architecture of products that connects servers together into clusters and to remote storage. The use of clustered computing is increasing in all types of computing environments, and this will grow, due to the vast amount of high-performance storage out there these days.

“InfiniBand is the technology used to connect computers and storage together,” said Thad Omura, vice president of marketing at Mellanox, the InfiniBand chip pioneer. “It is similar to Ethernet, but with better performance, and it is enabling applications to run on clusters of servers, replacing exotic and expensive supercomputers. InfiniBand is a great way to connect them.”

According to Omura, there are several transitions going on in data centers helping propel the adoption of InfiniBand: consolidation to fewer, larger data centers; server virtualization; and cluster computing.

According to Patrick Guay, senior vice president of marketing at Voltaire, an InfiniBand systems vendor, the networking technology is beneficial in increasing the performance of applications in the data center by taking advantage of multiple servers.

“It allows you to spread workloads among servers and applications that do not know they are running on multiple servers,” Guay said. This means applications run as seamlessly as they would on one server but at supercomputer speeds.

InfiniBand has strong advantages in clustering environments, which also has been helping it grow. It can tackle a huge computing job by clustering together average servers.

Tech points

According to Omura, InfiniBand possesses four key advantages: speed, scalability, latency and price per performance.

Currently, data rates for the newest Ethernet products are at 10G per second. InfiniBand can reach speeds of 20G per second with a 40G per second rate scheduled to debut in 2008. With all other factors equal, switching from Ethernet to InfiniBand increases speed two to four times. However, most servers today use 1G/second Ethernet.

The next benefit is its scalability, which is critical in data center operations. Switches connecting hundreds of 20G per second ports are in common use, and clusters have been built with server counts in the thousands. 10G Ethernet products have far to go.

Low latency also is beneficial, and as Omura said, “With InfiniBand, you can move data from an application on one computer to an application on another in one microsecond.”

Keeping operations flowing is a critical element to data center functionality.

Price per performance for InfiniBand is unmatched. For instance, the switches to connect InfiniBand cost a fraction of the price of 10G Ethernet, which is surprising since InfiniBand performs better.


The cabling element of InfiniBand remains critical, and installation is best handled by professionals, such as the electrical contractor. InfiniBand uses cable—such as copper or fiber optics—but the way InfiniBand products are made gives data center designers and cable installers more flexibility for selecting the cable type and infrastructure design.

With greater ease, one can decide which type of cable to use when the time comes to change and upgrade.

“InfiniBand is one of a kind in that you can plug in an optical cable or a copper one using the same connector,” Omura said.

In addition, Guay said, moving to InfiniBand does not require replacing existing cabling infrastructure. There are products that can translate messages between Ethernet and InfiniBand. According to Guay, no new servers or racks are required, either. Existing ones can be retrofitted for InfiniBand.

All of this means contractors are in demand, according to Omura, because of the onslaught of data center consolidation. For example, a company that has 200 data centers opts to consolidate to 10 regional data centers. Those 10 centers house a lot of equipment, going beyond the abilities of in-house data center personnel, meaning the local contractors can be called in to assist in the consolidation and maintenance.

Much has been made of data centers of late, primarily because these centers are strongly driving networking business. InfiniBand will continue to be another networking alternative that communication professionals need to understand, especially as adoption of the technology increases.  EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at



About the Author

Jennifer Leah Stong-Michas

Freelance Writer
Jennifer Leah Stong-Michas is a freelance writer who lives in central Pennsylvania.

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.