InfiniBand rockets up Top 500 supercomputer list

InfiniBand-based clusters account for 182 of the top 500 supercomputers and half of the top 10.

InfiniBand-based clusters are charging up the Top 500 supercomputer list with 182 systems, including 63 of the top 100 and five of the top 10 now based on the high-speed interconnect.

Gigabit Ethernet still dominates the list of the world's 500 fastest supercomputers, with 258 machines. But officials with the InfiniBand Trade Association (IBTA) boasted of their momentum this week at the SC09 supercomputing conference in Portland, Ore.

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InfiniBand, an interconnect for servers, storage and networking, "has really found its place in high-performance computing and we're starting to see that transcend into the enterprise," says Brian Sparks, director of marketing for Mellanox Technologies and a member of IBTA. "It's the only growing standard interconnect on the list. When you look at all the really large-node clusters out there, the ones reaching peak performance, the majority are InfiniBand."

InfiniBand's presence on the Top 500 list, the latest version of which was announced this week, has grown 28% since November. Just four years ago, only 3% of the Top 500 supercomputers used InfiniBand. The technology's growth has come mainly at the expense of Myrinet, an interconnect designed by Myricom that used to hold a substantial portion of the Top 500.

Sparks says InfiniBand offers performance, latency and scalability advantages for applications requiring high I/O throughput, while attributing Gigabit Ethernet's dominance of the Top 500 list to its low cost. He also acknowledged that InfiniBand lags far behind Gigabit Ethernet in the enterprise market, largely because IT pros think deploying InfiniBand is too difficult.

But IBTA officials are trying to educate IT about InfiniBand to help the technology gain wider acceptance, and they believe challenges posed by emerging technologies like virtualization may convince enterprises of InfiniBand's advantages.

"At a certain size of data center, maybe less than 100 servers, virtualization is fine on Gigabit Ethernet," says Bill Boas, another IBTA member who is vice president of business development at System Fabric Works. "But when customers are trying to do several hundred servers and use virtualization, they're running into tremendous performance problems."

The InfiniBand market includes switch vendors like Voltaire, QLogic and Mellanox, while server vendors such as HP, IBM, Sun and Dell resell InfiniBand technologies. All the major server vendors are selling 40 Gigabit InfiniBand adapters, but InfiniBand's penetration into the enterprise market is significantly lower than its share of the HPC industry, Sparks says.

In the enterprise market, "we definitely have room to grow, lots of room to grow," he says.

Founded 10 years ago, the InfiniBand Trade Association has about 40 members and is led by steering committee members IBM, Intel, Mellanox, QLogic, Sun and Voltaire.

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