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IBM slides Voltaire's 10 GE switches into HPC clusters

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Back in June, InfiniBand and now 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch maker Voltaire announced its first 10 GE switch, the Vantage 8500. Today, Voltaire begins shipping the box, and it has inked a reseller agreement with server maker IBM to help peddle it.

Specifically, the reseller agreement will see Big Blue put the Vantage 8500 switch inside of its pre-fabricated HPC clusters, which are known as the System Cluster 1350. The deal for IBM to peddle Voltaire's 10 GE switches will not come as much of a surprise to anyone, since IBM has been selling Voltaire's InfiniBand switches as the interconnection glue for some of its biggest supercomputing clusters since 2004, when the two first hooked up.

Voltaire's InfiniBand switches are used in the "Roadrunner" parallel super installed at Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is a hybrid blade architecture based on Opteron and Cell processors. But, somewhat oddly, Voltaire's IB switches are not used in the Smart Analytics System data warehousing and analytics Power-based clusters announced in July, and they are not the preferred IB switches for the DB2 PureScale OLTP database cluster setup that Big Blue announced two weeks ago to try to steal some thunder from Oracle and Sun Microsystems. IBM is using QLogic 9024CU InfiniBand switches, running at a slower 20 Gb/sec data rate, in this PureScale setups, according to sources inside of IBM. DB2 PureScale ships in December.

Oracle and Sun, of course, are tag-teaming on clustered database setups based on x64 iron and Sparc iron. The x64 setup, known as the Exadata V2 appliance, is based on Sun's own InfiniBand switches, while the earlier Exadata V1 setup was based on servers from Hewlett-Packard and IB switches from Voltaire.

In other words, having IBM endorse Voltaire's 10 GE switches will fill in some gaps.

IBM is also stepping up to resell the Grid Director 4700, a 40 Gb/sec InfiniBand switch that Voltaire rolled out in June. It can pack 324 ports into single chassis, or 648 ports using double-density network modules. These will also be used in HPC setups by Big Blue. Voltaire also makes a 40 Gb/sec switch module that tucks into IBM's BladeCenter blade chassis, which IBM resells.

The Vantage 8500, as El Reg previously reported, is a 288-port non-blocking, layer 2 Ethernet switch. The unit comes in a 15U chassis and has 288 wire-speed 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports. The microcode that controls the switch will allow the Vantage 8500 to support the evolving and Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) protocols espoused by various switch makers, especially Cisco Systems.

Voltaire says that the Vantage 8500 has a latency of under 1 microsecond, and itis very power efficient in that it can deliver a 10 GE port that consumes under 10 watts of juice. Up to a dozen of the Vantage 8500s can be daisy chained to put together a switched fabric that spans 3,456 ports. The switch costs around $1,200 per port, which is pricey, but the latency is low. And the price will no doubt get lower.

This is obviously a very high-end switch, and Asaf Somekh, vice president of marketing at Voltaire, is keeping his cards very close to his chest on what other 10 GE switches are in the pipeline. "We've been very focused on the Vantage 8500 because we see so much demand for it," Somekh says. "But in the future we will have different port mixes and different speeds."

Having just shipped Voltaire's first 10 GE switch, Somekh was not in much of a mood to talk about its product roadmap with regard to future 40 GE and 100 GE products. But he did say that Voltaire believes that the next step the switching industry will take is a move to 40 GE switches and that these will be used for inter-switch links and a number of years from now will move down into servers, much as Gigabit Ethernet did a number of years ago and 10 GE is doing now.

Hewlett-Packard, which has been the other big reseller of Voltaire switches, is likely to start peddling the Vantage 8500 at some point. But Voltaire is not saying if or when or where HP might deploy the product. In pre-configured HPC clusters, no doubt.

Over at HPC competitor Silicon Graphics - Blade Network Technologies, the privately held switch maker that was spun out of telecom giant Nortel a few years before it went bust - has been tapped to be one of the switch suppliers of choice that SGI will peddle for its CloudRack C2 and X2 cookie-sheet servers as well as with its half-depth and standard depth rack-mounted servers.

Specifically, SGI is picking up BNT's RackSwitch G8000 1/10 GE switch, its G81000 10 GE low-latency switch, and its G8124 10 GE SFP+ switch. ®

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