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PathScale takes Infiniband cluster booster to Xeon

Out of the Opteron HTX shadow

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Networking start-up PathScale is escaping the shackles of the Opteron market with a new version of its Infiniband adapter that slots into Xeon-based servers.

Starting next month, PathScale will begin shipping the InfiniPath Adapter for PCI Express. As the product name suggests, the adapter will fit into the PCI Express slots of Xeon and Opteron-based servers. PathScale's existing InfiniPath HTX Adapter is limited to Opteron-based motherboards that ship with HTX slots.

The move to play with PCI Express opens PathScale up to a much broader market. Currently, only smaller players such as SuperMicro and iWill make HTX-ready motherboards, although more server makers will do so this year.

"Before, we were AMD-only and then only played in the HTX subset of that market," Pathscale vice president Len Rosenthal said in an interview at the company's Mountain View headquarters. "Every server built from now on will be able to use our products. That includes products from the major server vendors such as HP, IBM and Sun."

PathScale's adapters are aimed at customers building out large InfiniBand-based Linux clusters. The company, which is in the process of being acquired by QLogic, claims huge performance advantages over rivals such as Quadrics, Myricom and Mellanox.

In particular, PathScale likes to tout InfiniPath's skills at handling loads of messages.

Pathscale "delivers the highest message rate and highest effective bandwidth of any cluster interconnect available"," the company said. "It allows InfiniPath to support more than 10m messages per second, or 10X-MR, over 10 times more messages per second than any other cluster interconnect. As a result, end-user organizations relying on InfiniBand-based clustered systems for high-performance computing tasks will significantly increase the scalability of their applications and gain overall cluster efficiency."

PathScale, however, has yet to prove that its PCI Express product will match the performance of its HTX adapter. It has started benchmarking the new adapter in earnest and will continue to do so as beta shipments comtinue throughout March. It expects the PCI Express adapter performance to be comparable to the HTX adapter. Although, customers in the high performance computing market in need of the absolute best performance will likely stick with the HTX kit.

This coming year will prove a big test for PathScale.

The company expects its union with QLogic to improve sales by giving it access to a larger sales channel. In addition, hardware partners may feel more comfortable about betting on PathScale with a bigger name behind it.

PathScale insists that customers beyond the high performance computing market have started to look at InfiniBand clusters. This includes work being done to run large databases on such clusters. Oracle, for example, has a beta version of its database being tuned to use Infiniband efficiently.

In addition, hardware makers have started to expand their Infiniband product lines.

"A number of players are coming out with Infiniband-based backplanes and switching modules for their blade server products," Rosenthal said.

PathScale also expects to see its products work in tandem with a wider range of servers based on different operating systems. "We see our product running in conjunction with two flavors of Unix within the next twelve months," Rosenthal said, declining to out the specific versions of Unix.

We took various winks and nods to mean that IBM is eyeing the PathScale adapter for use in its Power-based servers, and Sun, of course, has Solaris x86 and Solaris on the move.

PathScale is also working with Microsoft to tune its products to work with the cluster edition of Windows Server.

The new PCI Express adapter will cost $795 with discounts available for volume purchases. ®

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