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Saturday, February 4, 2012

InfiniBand: What about it ?

Heard the buzz word - InfiniBand ? And wondering what it is ? Here is some information to get you started.

I am quite sure that you are already familiar with more common networking technologies like Ethernet and various Wireless media these days. InfiniBand is yet another but it does not reach out to us in our daily lives as much as others and probably thats the reason you are still interested in reading about it here :)

InfiniBand is meant to provide interconnect for high end computing environments by providing high bandwidth under extremely low latency. In other words, it enables computing end points to exchange more data, faster. Lets compare InfiniBand with Ethernet based on various product offerings today.

Ethernet most commonly offer 1Gb/sec and 10Gb/sec bandwidth. InfiniBand offer upto 40Gb/s bandwidth with lower latency then observed on Ethernet media.

I would like to point out that these are raw bandwidths and the actual throughput is usually lower which depends on messaging protocols across end points. I will talk about this more later.

In recent years of technology evolution, computing platforms' capabilities have reached a point where they can use a better and higher speed network to communicate with peer platforms more efficiently. We refer to the term - bottlenecks, when such scenarios occur. In high demanding computing environments, InfiniBand solves this problem by allowing computers to exchange more data faster.

So, what do you need to get on this high speed data highway ? Not likely that same equipment will work. You are right !

InfiniBand requires specialized hardware equipment. Each computing end point needs an I/O card that we call as Host Channel Adapter or HCA. They connect to InfiniBand Switches using special cables that are engineered to carry your data at this high rate with precision.

Oh wow ! So, do I need to re-write my applications here ? I do not have time to do that !

I know you will ask this at this point. The answer is "no". Before I go any further, let me just state that InfiniBand follows well known industry standard for networking and this is known as Open Systems Interconnect or OSI. This model offers seven layers and just like ethernet, they apply to InfiniBand as well. Now, let me come back to the original point. We dont need to re-write our entire applications because InfiniBand technology enables very seamless integration.

The new hardware that we just talked about integrates and presents itself to your application in a very similar way as Ethernet. Your view into the network remains same and you continue to interact with sockets comprised of IP addresses and ports.

 Thats all for this blog. I will come back with more information on this later and open up the topic in details. Thanks for reading !

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Comments ( 2 )
  • Yann Droneaud Monday, February 6, 2012


    Sure, InfiniBand support IPv4 and IPv6 (IPoIB), so "legacy" applications using TCP/IP and BSD sockets are working fine on InfiniBand, they could even work better on InfiniBand than Ethernet.

    Users, developers, decision-makers should not be afraid of using InfiniBand: transition could be smooth, existing applications will be still be working.

    If high-troughput / low latency is required, go on, take a ride on InfiniBand: You need fast database answers, use InfiniBand. You need to migrate virtual machine disk images, use InfiniBand.

    But, I'm wandering how one could write an introduction about InfiniBand without any mention to "kernel bypass", "zero copy" and "RDMA" (Remote DMA).

    So I'm waiting for your next blog entry on InfiniBand.

  • Neeraj Gupta Friday, February 10, 2012

    Hi Yann,

    We appreciate your comments. Information is endless and my goal is not to overwhelm a reader in general. I will be posting short blogs over time. Some of these will be basic for beginners and other may be deep dive product specific.


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