SAN FRANCISCO Sun Microsystems Inc. will use Infiniband as a cluster and I/O interconnect, and will build Infiniband slots for adapter cards in blade and database servers that could start shipping late next year. Details of Sun's plans come as other longtime Infiniband promoters, such as Intel Corp. and IBM Corp., have cooled in their backing of the fast, low-latency interconnect.
The support for Infiniband was announced at Sun Network conference here, where Sun rolled out N1, its version of a highly automated data center. The company also announced it will acquire storage controller startup Pirus Networks to bolster Sun's capability to manage emerging storage-area networks.
"As Infiniband and Ethernet with remote direct memory access technology emerge, our N1 strategy will work with these [interconnects]," said Steve MacKay, vice president of Sun's N1 products. "Models we are building today take advantage of Infiniband."
Ultimately all Sun servers using 4-to-8 or a greater number of processors will use Infiniband at 10-Gbit/second and 30-Gbit/s (so-called 4x and 12x) speeds. The company will purchase 10-Gbit/s Infiniband parts, but will build its own 30-Gbit/s devices, leveraging the design team it acquired from the former Dolphin Interconnect.
Besides linking servers to each other and to separate I/O subsystems with Infiniband, the company also plans to build systems with Infiniband slots for a variety of adapter cards, including Fibre Channel cards.
In the cards
Sun is designing an Infiniband-to-PCI bridge so that it can turn adapter cards built out of mainstream PCI chips into full Infiniband cards. The company's third-party adapter card partners such as Emulex Corp., JNI Corp. and QLogic Corp., are also expected to build Infiniband adapter cards for Sun servers.
Sun's first-generation blade servers, which could ship as early as this year, will be based on Gigabit Ethernet, but a higher-end second-generation of servers aimed at so-called application or second-tier deployment will be based on Infiniband. The first systems using Infiniband were expected to ship in mid-2003, but may be pushed out to 2004.
Sun executives said their commitment to Infiniband has not waivered, even though Intel and IBM have recently suggested they now have limited plans for the interconnect. Intel expected the Infiniband rollout would come sooner and broader than did Sun, and at one point planned to have Infiniband ship on its Itanium 2 systems, Sun executives said.
Rising interest in Gigabit Ethernet and 10 Gigabit Ethernet with remote data memory access (RDMA) and TCP offload as a dominant data center interconnect is misplaced, Sun contends. The RDMA spec for Ethernet may not be ready until 2004 and the resulting Ethernet silicon will be substantially more complex and costly than 10-Gbit/s Infiniband, the executives said.
At Sun Network, the company publicly unveiled its N1 initiative, an multiyear effort to let users manage data centers without needing to know the particulars of the underlying systems. IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. have promoted similar concepts under initiatives called autonomic computing and the utility data center, respectively.
"N1 will let us create the computer built out of the network. Servers, switches and storage devices will become like components in a data center system," said MacKay.
Sun's goal is to use N1 to increase server utilization from an average of 15 percent today to 80 percent in the future, while increasing the number of servers an individual administrator could monitor from about 30 today to more than 500. The pieces of the N1 software will arrive in stages over the next three years, MacKay said.
As one step toward that vision, Sun announced its acquisition of Pirus for an undisclosed amount in a stock swap. Founded in 1999, Pirus (Acton, Mass.) has been shipping since April a controller that provides access to storage arrays over either Gigabit Ethernet or Fibre Channel networks.
Pirus' virtualization software, which is capable of handling either file-based or block-based storage, is considered the company's crown jewel.
The company currently uses a PowerPC as both a data and control path processor, and uses an Intel IXP to accelerate TCP. Its next-generation cards will use a chip based on a programmable array of embedded cores from a Silicon Valley startup called Astute Networks. The Astute chip will handle TCP offload and act as a data path controller, keeping the PowerPC as a control path CPU. The PowerPC is also host for the company's virtualization software.
The products bring additional intelligence and management features to Sun's emerging storage group, which primarily sells midrange arrays of disks today, said Bob Passmore, a storage analyst at Gartner Group (Stamford, Conn.).
Separately, Sun announced it has moved its Ultrasparc III processor from a 0.15-micron to a 0.13-micron process at Texas Instruments Inc., providing a new top speed grade for the chips of 1.2 GHz. The chips will ship in systems in about four months, the company said.