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Microsoft allows Voltaire InfiniBand for Windows servers

Traditionally found on HPC applications running Linux, InfiniBand is finding a home on servers running Microsoft Windows Compute Cluster Server.

Earlier this month, Voltaire Inc., a provider of grid backbone technologies, introduced its InfiniBand GridStack for Windows v2.5 host stack software.

Voltaire's GridStack -- a set of device drivers, related binaries, libraries and documentation -- was previously available for Linux operating systems. But now with Microsoft making headway in the high-performance computing (HPC) market with its Windows Compute Cluster Server, the software giant wants to certify InfiniBand, said Asaf Somekh, vice president of strategic alliances at Billerica, Mass-based Voltaire.

Software platform technology company Agnostic Media Inc. in Incline Village, Nev., was one of the first Windows users to employ Voltaire's InfiniBand. For the past two years, Agnostic has used it at major media companies such as Viacom, HBO, CBS, MLB, and NHL, according to CEO and President Jason Turner.

Agnostic's applications all use Microsoft Windows components, including Windows Server, .NET 2.0, and SQL Server. And while customers' underlying file systems are generally Unix or Linux based, such as Solaris and Red Hat, some use a Windows file system for storage, Turner said.

Turner said Agnostic chose InfiniBand to network its application servers and storage because it is "low latency, has a scalable roadmap -- given the current support for DDR [double-data rate] at 20 Gbits -- and has allowed us to scale dynamically in nodes as well as I/O to storage with the use of storage servers."

"We use InfiniBand in our data center as the interconnect for an HPC architecture we created to process massive amounts of video files," Turner said. "It allows us to transcode/convert, package and distribute large amounts of video/film content."

InfiniBand in the data center
InfiniBand is a relative newcomer in the data center, and it often competes with other networking technologies such as Fibre Channel for storage and Ethernet for connecting to LANs. InfiniBand's fit is for HPC and enterprise apps, given its low latency and high-bandwidth characteristics, Somekh said.

InfiniBand is the fastest-growing technology on the latest Top 500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers, accounting for 127 of the fastest systems in the world, up from 78 in last November's list.

Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC expects InfiniBand adoption to soar over the next four years because of HPC, scale-out database environments, shared virtualized I/O and increasing demands from financial applications. These factors will propel worldwide InfiniBand host channel adaptor factory revenues from $62.3 million in 2006 to more than triple that -- $224.7 million -- in 2011, IDC reported recently.

Virtualization may also spur InfiniBand adoption, particularly now that virtualization market leader VMware supports it natively. With the 3.5 release of Virtual Infrastructure announced this month, InfiniBand vendors can provide drivers for their devices to work with VMware ESX Server. The drivers would be supported and distributed by the InfiniBand vendor, said Nick Fuentes, a public relations manager at VMware.

Microsoft's thumbs up for Voltaire
The GridStack software passed Microsoft Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) testing for Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 operating systems recently. WHQL is a process in which a series of tests are run on third-party hardware or software to check for performance and compatibility.

With WHQL certification, customers can now officially deploy Voltaire's switches and software on Windows-based clusters and grids and know the product is certified by Microsoft. Voltaire GridStack for Windows v2.5 now carries the "Designed for Windows" logo from Microsoft.

"The enterprise markets we serve are increasingly adopting Microsoft Windows, so it is important for us to be able to work with Windows," Somekh said. "The financial services market, entertainment and media and other industries rely heavily on Windows because their organizations are familiar with the OS already."

Recent benchmark tests conducted by Hewlett-Packard Co. indicate that Microsoft Windows Compute Cluster Server interconnected with Voltaire 20 Gbps InfiniBand delivers substantial performance improvements for a number of HPC applications when compared with Gbit Ethernet as the cluster interconnect, Voltaire reported.

Somekh added that many industries use a combination of both Linux and Windows operating systems in their data centers.

Voltaire WHQL certified offerings are available through Voltaire's original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), integrator and reseller channels. Voltaire's offerings for Microsoft Compute Cluster Server 2003 are offered as part of HP's Unified Cluster Portfolio and IBM's System Cluster 1350.

The cost of Voltaire's InfiniBand GridStack -- which comes bundled with the adapter, switchboard, software, cabling -- costs about $1,000 per server through OEMs, Somekh said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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