• United States

Possibilities abound with Ethernet server interconnects

Apr 13, 20042 mins

* Ethernet can provide foundation for building new kinds of super-servers

I recently was struck by how quickly the interconnection of large numbers of servers has become a very big deal.

In the world of server interconnection, one doesn’t really think of traditional LANs – you think of the cluster or supercomputer you are building, the links in the data center, but not so much the wiring itself. It’s mostly about servers interacting with each other – building a sum greater than the parts – and not necessarily interacting with clients the way they would in a traditional LAN.

But LAN technologies are at work in these environments, and there has been some interesting news surrounding them recently.

My colleague Linda Leung highlighted just how powerful an enabler LAN technology can be in building a mega-server. She brought her laptop computer to the University of San Francisco, plugged it into a Fast Ethernet switch at the gym, and it joined hundreds of other computers brought by volunteers to create a supercomputer for a day:

Interestingly, it was the network interfaces of all those computers that tended to get in the way of this ad hoc supercomputer reaching its full potential.

Foundry Networks provided the switches for the event. The company also, coincidentally, this week released switches designed specifically for servers. They’re a bit different from the gear used for the supercomputer, since they are mostly intended to interact between a server cluster and the outside world:

Network World this week has a story on server interconnection technology, which points out that the Ethernet family of LAN technology is one of several contenders. InfiniBand is another popular interconnect, as is Myricom’s Myrinet:

Meanwhile, the IEEE last month held a “call for interest” on using Ethernet as a “data center” technology. The idea is to look at ways to reduce latency, packet loss and other factors that might get in the way of the technology’s acceptance in this realm.

It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds, and how LANs will morph as the technology advances.