Soupin' up the bus

Standards-based choice

While Level 5 and the InfiniBand companies are vying for today's high-speed interconnect market, iWarp might give both a run for their money within the next two years.

IWarp, which stands for Internet Warp, or high-speed Internet, is an umbrella protocol for Remote Direct Memory Access, Remote Direct Data Placement and Marker PDU Alignment. As a bundle, iWarp, like its competitors, is aimed at boosting the speed of networked devices -- in this case by reducing the overhead associated with Ethernet. It does this by combining the processing and routing functions on a single chip. "The basic idea is to allow a computer on one end of a connection to write data directly to the memory of another computer without any intervention," says Bob Russell, a member of UNH's Interoperability Lab.

The technology requires a swap-out of NICs on both ends of a connection, but uses the Ethernet infrastructure. "One of the things I like about iWarp is that it is standards-based, while EtherFabric is proprietary," says The Clipper Group's MacFarland.

Backing the iWarp movement are companies such as Broadcom, Chelsio Communications, HP, Network Appliance and Microsoft. However, the technology is not in broad use and devices are in the early stages, Russell says. He adds that widespread deployment could be six months to a year away.

According to MacFarland, iWarp's big benefit is for large data transfers. A complete implementation of iWarp could offload 90 percent of data transmission overhead from a server's CPU, resulting in latency numbers close to InfiniBand's 1.3 millisec and improved system performance. "It's a much more efficient process than its predecessors," she says.

Unlike InfiniBand, iWarp's barriers to adoption are low, MacFarland says. It is interoperable with most technology in high-performance computing and data centres, such as storage-area networks and network-attached storage.

Russell agrees. "Whether you're moving files or doing backups, iWarp would help," he says. "The big computing shops like the national labs that have supercomputers that are hungry for more power, more speed, they'll jump on iWarp right away."

Experts warn that when iWarp products debut, like the early InfiniBand products, they may be costly. But they point out that as adoption rates grow, the prices will quickly fall into line.

Questions to ask concerning interconnects

  • Is it compatible with bigger bandwidth - can I move to faster speeds without buying new gear?
  • Do the network interface cards have to be on both ends of the connection?
  • Can I test-drive it on my hardware in my network running my code and my applications?
  • What traditional training do I need to deploy and manage this interconnect?
  • Is this compatible with Ethernet or will I have to buy specialized gear?

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