Turn The Channel
Does Infiniband have the potential to reduce the need for highly-skilled IT workers at small orgs?
- By Dian Schaffhauser
For the next three minutes, forget about dot-com
deaths. Forget about layoffs in your sector. Forget
about recertification. Let’s talk technology—specifically,
input-output. We all know at least a little about
the shared-bus—PCI. Hasn’t really changed in a
decade. Of course, the number and size of transactions
we expect our systems to keep up with have grown
in that time—as has every other component of the
computing experience. Yet data flow has to cram
into the same pokey road it had pre-Pentium.
Infiniband is the relatively vendor-neutral hardware
architecture that promises to revolutionize how
I/O works. It’s been several years in the making
as various companies duked it out about who got
to decide what’s in the plan.
The goal was to come up with a specification
that would increase the data rate between servers
and storage devices. InfiniBand uses what’s called
a switched network fabric, which in its most basic
element means it supports parallel data transfers.
As a report from Illuminata explains, “InfiniBand
is a network approach to I/O.” InfiniBand components
are addressed by IPv6 addresses, just as any other
network node might be. (If you’ve been wondering
whether Microsoft would ever start talking about
IPv6, looks like it could happen via support of
InfiniBand in the Whistler timeframe.)
How will it manifest in the server room? We’ll
move away from the idea of all-purpose servers.
You’ll start working with application-specific
servers—or “blades” (sounds sharp and lean, no?).
If you think a stacked rack is a thing of beauty
(don’t worry about what all that cabling looks
like on the backside), then imagine a truly dense
rack of blades, each efficiently dedicated to
a specific service: caching, security, Web serving...
According to IDC, the greatest opportunity for
InfiniBand lies in the sub-$10,000 server market.
That’s what most of you work with most of the
time. We’ll start seeing InfiniBand-aware equipment
coming out of a slew of companies before year’s
end. You’ll personally probably start buying InfiniBand-enabled
servers next year. (Some companies will no doubt
offer bridging chips as a stop-gap measure to
prevent having to replace existing hardware.)
Oddly, in its report on InfiniBand, IDC also
states that InfiniBand “answers the industry shortage
of highly skilled IT professionals and system
administrators who are capable of reconfiguring
general-purpose servers.” Say what?
I suppose in order to sell management on the
idea of buying InfiniBand-implemented hardware,
the vendor consortium concocted the idea of reducing
technical staff as a nice side benefit. But a
new I/O architecture laying waste to your generalist
server wisdom? I don’t think so. I’d just expect
to see the number of you with specialties going
up—each understanding all there is to know about
this or that blade. But somebody’s got to tie
it all together. Might as well be you. In case
I’m wrong, though, better bone up on InfiniBand
Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.