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MYSTERY as QLogic hurls InfiniBand from train

Reg storage desk baffled in the case of the fibre fracas

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Comment Storage networking and InfiniBand supplier is giving up on InfiniBand and selling that business line to Intel for $125 million.

QLogic is in a seemingly permanent duel with Emulex, from which it was spun-out in 1994, for dominance in the Fibre Channel host bus adapter (HBA) market and also the so far un-dynamic Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) market which is based on Converged Network Adapters (CNAs), the combination of the Fibre Channel protocol stack and Ethernet interface card.

QLogic has had a line of InfiniBand products for some time and was a third player alongside the two leading players; Mellanox and Voltaire. When Mellanox bought Voltaire in November 2010, a few weeks after Biddiscombe was promoted to QLogic's CEO spot from his CFO office, Q was suddenly facing a rival who could outspend it on InfiniBand research and development.

Just over a year later Q has given up the InfiniBand ghost to concentrate - CEO and president Simon Biddiscombe said - "on our converged networking, enterprise Ethernet, and storage area networking products."

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Aaron Rakers said: "The company has admittedly struggled in the InfiniBand market against Mellanox."

It is selling its InfiniBand business and certain assets to Intel for $125 million, a fair sum. As a result QLogic is effectively out of the HPC market unless customers there use Fibre Channel or FCoE.

Intel has a software FCoE product but Q thinks that hardware offload is the way to go for FCoE and isn't worried about the Intel product.

The Fibre Channel HBA market is thought to be steady but not growing because FCoE will transfer storage networking from it to Ethernet over time. So far FCoE has appeared at the edge of Fibre Channel networks but not penetrated to the core or right across them because customers are reluctant to commit core storage networking to a protocol which involves profound changes to Ethernet - and one on which the two main FCoE core switch suppliers, Brocade and Cisco, are in strong disagreement over precisely what Ethernet standards, such as TRILL, are needed.

Where now Q?

So, this leaves EL Reg's storage desk believing that Q's very financially-literate CEO thinks that Q can get a better return on the cash invested in IB by directing it elsewhere. Okay, where?

Q certainly isn't thinking of moving into the Ethernet switch market and competing with all the networking big boys. So what is it going to do with the $125 million; re-purchase its shares to keep investors happy? It isn't saying anything beyond messages about focussing on core growth areas, with no details.

The two massive changes hitting storage-using data centres are cloud and flash.

There has been speculation Q may be thinking of adding flash to its HBA/CNA cards and so turning them into PCIe-connected flash caching resources for servers.

But there is a vMotion problem if you add PCIe flash cards to virtualised servers; with vMotion hindered if app data is in a server's flash card and no-where else. That has to be dealt with. Talking to people familiar with the area we understand that Q perceives an opportunity-window with a product or technology that could permit vMotion in such circumstances instead of hindering it. There is also a possible opportunity with combatting the network traffic variability that such PCIe server flash caching brings in its train.

This kind of thinking can be seen as a natural development of Q's existing focus on server I/O to back-end SAN data. The company is certain other suppliers, such as Emulex, are alive to the opportunities as well. Exactly how CNA and HBA cards in servers could communicate to share cache data and help vMotion is not known.

El Reg is fairly confident we could see Q activity in one or both of these areas later this year. ®

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