Intel blew tiny $125 million piece of their record breaking quarterly income to purchase QLogic’s InfiniBand business, which gives them access to a networking technology significantly faster than Ethernet. InfiniBand is what is referred to as a switched fabric technology which allows multiple switches to connect to multiple hosts or data stores as opposed to the more point to point single broadcast which current ethernet based networks use.
That may look familiar to some, but not as a network technology; it matches the communications architecture behind PCIe and SATA. As we have seen, the speed difference between parallel connections and serial is quite impressive and InfiniBand’s fastest implementation is currently capable of transferring 25 Gbit/s per lane. That is significantly faster than the 1Gbit/s per lane PCIe 3.0 can provide which is why some current implementations of InfiniBand are used in High Performance Computing (HPC) applications. InfiniBand also offers incredibly low latency of between 100 to 200 nanoseconds, depending on the implementation.
Getting a hold of this interconnect technology gives Intel a huge boost in their capabilities of creating high performance networking technologies. They have been looking for a way to grow in that area and push out Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) manufactures from the market, replacing those chips with low power Xeons or future Intel chips. This would open up an entirely new market for Intel, who could see their already impressive growth increase significantly. Intel could become even more attractive to customers by taking advantage of the benefits of owning McAfee by placing virus/malware protection directly onto their switches. We have already seen evidence of one project along these lines at IDF 2011 when they announced the DeepSAFE project which is software that operates below the OS level, providing what they refer to as "hardware-assisted" security. With that OS-agnostic approach it would be possible to run the security software on a network switch or on an HPC interconnect. That could give Intel not only the fastest interconnect technology but also the most secure.
When discussing this with The Inquirer, Intel’s representative Kirk Skaugen stated that this purchase will help Intel design and produce an exaflop level supercomputer by 2018. It is unlikely that this is Intel’s only goal, with the purchase of Fulcrum Microsystems this summer, a company which designs ASICs for Ethernet switches and routers that run at 10Gbit and 40Gbit, they are well on their way to designing network switches for HPC applications. The Register ponders what this could mean for companies which have used InfiniBand technology in their products. Will they be snatched up by a networking company like Cisco, could AMD pick them up and provide competition in this industry or will they consider offering themselves to Intel the best alternative? We will be keeping an eye on this as it will not only develop into the next generation of networking technology but could also drive the successor to PCIe.
"The high-performance networking market just got a whole lot more interesting, with Intel shelling out $125m to acquire the InfiniBand switch and adapter product lines from upstart QLogic.
Intel has made no secret that it wants to bolster its Data Center and Connected Systems business by getting network equipment providers to use Xeon processors inside of their networking gear – that Intel division posted $10.1bn in revenues in 2011, and the company wants to break $20bn in the next five years."
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