Editor's Desk

Turn The Channel

Does Infiniband have the potential to reduce the need for highly-skilled IT workers at small orgs?

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 at www.infinibandta.org.

About the Author

Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.


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