Infiniband vendor catches Ethernet wave

By , Network World |  Networking, Ethernet, infiniband

Infiniband data center switch vendor Voltaire has caught the Ethernet bug.

The company this week plans to unveil an Ethernet architecture for data centers that builds on the capabilities of its traditional large-scale Infiniband fabrics. The architecture is based on the emerging Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) standards for lossless data transmission and will include some new Ethernet switches from Voltaire.

Voltaire feels it can leverage its installed base of Infiniband fabrics and fabric management, OEM relationships with incumbent server vendors, and the strained relationship it has now with Cisco to succeed in the Ethernet data center fabric market. Cisco may have alienated traditional data center server vendors like IBM and HP by unveiling a blade server of its own to compete with their offerings.

IBM and HP, as well as Sun, NEC, Bull, SGI and Rackable Systems are OEM resellers of Voltaire gear. The company also claims it can provide a flatter Ethernet fabric than Cisco's Nexus switches at 50% less cost, 1/3 less power, 1/10 the latency and four times the capacity.

Voltaire can undercut Cisco so dramatically because it is "not trying to get software margins from a hardware market," says Gartner analyst Joe Skorupa.

Voltaire also says other switch vendors are late to the data center switching market. Many are just now coming out with top-of-rack/end-of-row and core switches while Voltaire built a $62 million business in 10 years on Infiniband fabrics.

"They've bulit multiswitch mesh networks for quite a while, based on big, scalable switch fabrics," Skorupa says, referring to Voltaire's lineup of 10Gbps, 20Gbps and 40Gbps products, some of which have been shipping since 2004.

Indeed, Voltaire says CEE is essentially an Ethernet interface on the lossless fabric, multipathing, cut-through switching, I/O virtualization and protocols of Infiniband. As a result, Voltaire claims to be a "pure play" provider of scale-out fabrics for next-generation data centers -- even though its heritage is in Infiniband while the industry is moving to Ethernet.

But the company is small, Skorupa notes. And the same OEMs it supplies Infiniband to -- IBM and HP -- are also in the CEE data center fabric game: IBM just announced an OEM deal with Brocade to resell its Foundry Ethernet switches, and HP has HP ProCurve, which recently set its Ethernet switching sights on the data center.

"They still have to deliver and get customers interested," Skorupa says. "They need to get credible customer references."

Voltaire said it would provide more details on its scale-out Ethernet fabric this summer. Its Ethernet switches will ship later this year, company officials said.

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