InfiniBand Adapter Aims For Space, Power

Armed with new technology that pares the cost of power and board space in
server clusters, Mellanox Technologies launched the first single-chip
InfiniBand Host Channel Adapters (HCA) running at 10 gigabits per second.

Introduced Tuesday at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, the
InfiniHost III Ex HCA devices are geared to work with InfiniBand
switches from customers such as Topspin, Infinicon and
Voltaire.

These companies add the adapters to their switches and sell them to systems
vendors such as IBM , HP
and Sun Microsystems , who use the
speedy interconnects to bolster the performance of their server blades for
communications, storage and clustering.

Kevin Deierling, vice president of product marketing at Santa Clara,
Calif.-based Mellanox, said the devices use the company’s “MemFree”
technology, which reduces the cost, power, and board space required for
10Gb/s nodes in data center and technical computing server clusters.

There are key differences between Mellanox’s traditional HCAs and those built
with MemFree, Deierling said.

Regular HCAs provide 10Gb/s server-to-server and server-to-storage I/O
interconnect, and require up to 256 megabytes of DDR memory, which is
controlled by the HCA device. The memory consists of several chips welded
directly on adapter cards and motherboards, or a pluggable memory Dual
In-Line Memory Module.

This local HCA memory is used to store information about the connections
each node has with the rest of the nodes in the cluster. Information on
hundreds of thousands or even millions of connections may need to be stored
in local memory. This information needs to be closely coupled to the HCA to
enable fast access to maintain proper performance levels.

“You have to add additional DRAM, and this is typical of network adapters,”
including fibre channel adapters said Deierling.
“InfiniBand enables us to eliminate that memory, as well as timing and power
components that are the support infrastructure that normally goes on to the
board.”

However, Deierling said InfiniHost III Ex HCA devices with MemFree remove
the requirement for local memory on both PCI Express adapter cards and
Landed on Motherboard (LOM) designs (unlike card-based deployments, chips
are placed on the server motherboard with LOM), making them ideal for server
blade architectures.

The advantages? The executive said the HCAs would cost anywhere from 10 to
35 percent less than traditional HCAs, as well as a 20 percent reduction in
consumed power and a 40 percent reduction in board space.

The new HCA, which Deierling said is bolstered by advancements such as
64-bit processing, DDR2 memory and PCI-Express, will help Mellanox provide
OEM customers with 10Gb/s server adapter products for under $100 by the
first quarter 2005, with lower price points soon thereafter.

The 10 Gb/s HCA drew praise from analyst Jag Bolaria of The Linley Group,
who said the adapter should increase the adoption rate of 10Gb/s server and
storage clustering.

“The company’s MemFree technology reduces system cost, power, and space
requirements,” Bolaria said. “These factors combined with Mellanox’s
performance roadmap should accelerate adoption of InfiniBand technology on
servers and storage platforms.”

Clint Boulton
Clint Boulton is an Enterprise Storage Forum contributor and a senior writer for CIO.com covering IT leadership, the CIO role, and digital transformation.

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