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Industry Brief
Tectonic Shift:
HPC Networks Converge
Featuring
InfiniBand
Ethernet

Document # INDUSTRY2012012 v2 February, 2013

Copyright 2013© IT Brand Pulse. All rights reserved.
HPC Network Plate Tectonics
Ethernet Meets InfiniBand
High Performance Computing (HPC) is dominated by clusters of commodity servers connected by ultra-highperformance networks. These HPC networks move massive amounts of data so fast that clustered computing and
storage systems can cost effectively replace huge monolithic supercomputers and storage systems.
Like the outer layer of the Earth, the market for HPC networks is broken up into tectonic plates. There are two major
plates—Ethernet and InfiniBand—and many minor plates. Convergent boundaries have occurred between Ethernet
and InfiniBand where the two major plates slowly slide towards each other forming a subduction zone, with one plate
moves underneath the other.
Enhancements to Ethernet, the bedrock of data center networking, will enable Ethernet to slowly drive InfiniBand out
from underneath the distributed applications which run on clustered servers and storage.

HPC Networking Plate Tectonics

On the periphery of data centers lies a growing sea of distributed computing applications which run on clustered servers and storage. Networking for HPC clusters will converge on higher bandwidth and lower latency
Ethernet. InfiniBand will be pushed out to niche HPC applications.

40/100GbE

By 2016, annual sales of 40GbE and 100GbE products will reach
$3 billion—6x the annual sales of InfiniBand products in 2012.

Document # INDUSTRY2012012 v2, February, 2013

Page 2
HPC Network Architecture
Scale-Out instead of Scale-up
HPC networks are found in Distributed Computing environments where individual servers are distributed on a
network, each of which has its own local memory, and communicating with each other by message passing.
Distributed Computing environments consist of low cost commodity servers configured in clusters to harness the
aggregate computing power of all the servers working together. The same concept is being applied to data storage
where storage systems are configured in a cluster to harness the aggregate IO power needed to move petabytes of
data.
IT organizations increase the
performance and capacity of
server and storage clusters
in their distributed
computing environment by
adding more nodes (scaling
out), versus adding more
processors to a single
computer (scaling up). What
enables clusters to harness
that compute power, and
scale to large numbers of
nodes, is ultra-highperformance cluster
Server busses are high-bandwidth and low-latency. For a cluster to provide application performance as
interconnects. These
good as scaling “up” servers, the cluster interconnect must be high-bandwidth and low-latency.
networks have highbandwidth for moving
petabytes of shared storage for applications such as Seismic Analysis, or they are low-latency for applications such as
High Frequency Trading, where billions of calculations are distributed to the cluster for quick completion.
Highly distributed (Share Nothing) architectures are moving steadily towards mainstream business computing as a
result of the Google MapReduce and Google File System papers. The blue prints were used to establish an Apache
open-source framework called Hadoop which includes the MapReduce compute model and a distributed file system.
MapReduce divides applications into small pieces distributed on nodes in the cluster, and the file system provides high
bandwidth in a cluster. Oracle, SAP and other leading enterprise application vendors are offering data warehousing
and other applications based on Hadoop.

Bandwidth

The amount of data processed or transferred in a given amount
of time measured in gigabits per second (Gbps). ‘Throughput’
and ‘Bandwidth’ are used interchangeably.

Document # INDUSTRY2012012 v2, February, 2013

Page 3
Enhancements to Ethernet
Close the Performance Gap
From the turn of the millennium until 2011, InfiniBand
speed jumped from 10Gb to 20Gb to 40Gb to 56Gb. At
the same time, Ethernet bandwidth increased from 1Gb
to 10Gb. As a result, InfiniBand networks were adopted
in an increasing number of high-performance cluster
applications.

104Gb 4x EDR InfiniBand
100GbE

In 2011 the Ethernet industry unveiled its first 40GbE
adapters and switches, as well as 100GbE switches,
immediately closing the performance gap with
InfiniBand for bandwidth intensive applications.
In the next few years when 4x EDR InfiniBand arrives
along with 100Gb Ethernet adapters, InfiniBand and
Ethernet will be at parity with end-to-end 100Gb
networks.

Only a few years ago, QDR InfiniBand had a 400% performance
advantage over 10GhE. Today, 56Gb FDR InfiniBand has a 40%
advantage over 40GbE. In a few years, 100GbE and 4x EDR
InfiniBand will be at parity.

For low-latency applications, Ethernet has incorporated
Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA)—direct memory
access from the memory of one computer into that of
another without involving operating systems—a
mechanism which allows large low-latency clusters with
InfiniBand.
With the market for distributed computing taking off,
Ethernet Chips from volume Ethernet NIC vendors will
include support for RDMA.
Special low-latency RDMA over Ethernet networks have been
available for several years. Volume Ethernet NIC vendors will be
offering support for RDMA in the next few years.

Latency

Latency is the time between the start and completion of one action
measured in microseconds (µs) .

Document # INDUSTRY2012012 v2, February, 2013

Page 4
Building on Network Bedrock
The 99% of Installed LAN/Cluster Interconnect Ports
Short term, Ethernet-based HPC networking is just beginning to move from 10Gb technology to 40Gb technology
which significantly closes the performance gap with 56Gb FDR InfiniBand. As a result, inertia favors InfiniBand,
especially for applications with requirements for the highest bandwidth and lowest latency. This is highlighted by the
fact 50% of the Top 500 supercomputers now use InfiniBand and 20% of all HPC networks are InfiniBand networks.
Long term, the enhanced performance of Ethernet along with customer’s desire to protect their massive investment in
products and expertise, will push InfiniBand into niche applications. Over time, the vast majority of HPC architects and
administrators will build on Ethernet which comprises 99% of all network LAN and HPC ports, and the bedrock of their
data center networks.

LAN and Cluster Interconnect Ports Installed

IT Brand Pulse

With 99% of combined LAN and HPC network ports installed in the world, Ethernet represents an
investment which IT organizations want to protect, as well as the mindshare of most networking
professionals.

Top 500

The world’s 500 fastest supercomputers, ranked on their
performance using the LINPACK benchmark.

Document # INDUSTRY2012012 v2, February, 2013

Page 5
The Bottom Line
The Tectonic Shift has Started
The bottom line is this: The tectonic shift in HPC networking started with the availability of 40/100GbE and the
convergence of HPC networking onto Ethernet will halt the inertia of InfiniBand in a few short years. Annual sales of
40GbE and 100GbE products are expected to reach $3 billion in 2016, 6x the revenue of InfiniBand in 2012, and 3x of
projected InfiniBand product sales in 2016.

Related Links
To learn more about the companies, technologies, and products mentioned in this report, visit the following web
pages:

Emulex Network Xceleration (NX) Solutions
Top 500 Supercomputer Sites
InfiniBand Speed Road Map
IT Brand Pulse
Datacenter Acceleration

About the Author
Frank Berry is founder and senior analyst for IT Brand Pulse, a trusted source of data and analysis
about IT infrastructure, including servers, storage and networking. As former vice president of
product marketing and corporate marketing for QLogic, and vice president of worldwide marketing
for Quantum, Mr. Berry has over 30 years experience in the development and marketing of IT
infrastructure. If you have any questions or comments about this report, contact
frank.berry@itbrandpulse.com.

Document # INDUSTRY2012012 v2, February, 2013

Page 6

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Industry Brief: Tectonic Shift - HPC Networks Converge

  • 1. Industry Brief Tectonic Shift: HPC Networks Converge Featuring InfiniBand Ethernet Document # INDUSTRY2012012 v2 February, 2013 Copyright 2013© IT Brand Pulse. All rights reserved.
  • 2. HPC Network Plate Tectonics Ethernet Meets InfiniBand High Performance Computing (HPC) is dominated by clusters of commodity servers connected by ultra-highperformance networks. These HPC networks move massive amounts of data so fast that clustered computing and storage systems can cost effectively replace huge monolithic supercomputers and storage systems. Like the outer layer of the Earth, the market for HPC networks is broken up into tectonic plates. There are two major plates—Ethernet and InfiniBand—and many minor plates. Convergent boundaries have occurred between Ethernet and InfiniBand where the two major plates slowly slide towards each other forming a subduction zone, with one plate moves underneath the other. Enhancements to Ethernet, the bedrock of data center networking, will enable Ethernet to slowly drive InfiniBand out from underneath the distributed applications which run on clustered servers and storage. HPC Networking Plate Tectonics On the periphery of data centers lies a growing sea of distributed computing applications which run on clustered servers and storage. Networking for HPC clusters will converge on higher bandwidth and lower latency Ethernet. InfiniBand will be pushed out to niche HPC applications. 40/100GbE By 2016, annual sales of 40GbE and 100GbE products will reach $3 billion—6x the annual sales of InfiniBand products in 2012. Document # INDUSTRY2012012 v2, February, 2013 Page 2
  • 3. HPC Network Architecture Scale-Out instead of Scale-up HPC networks are found in Distributed Computing environments where individual servers are distributed on a network, each of which has its own local memory, and communicating with each other by message passing. Distributed Computing environments consist of low cost commodity servers configured in clusters to harness the aggregate computing power of all the servers working together. The same concept is being applied to data storage where storage systems are configured in a cluster to harness the aggregate IO power needed to move petabytes of data. IT organizations increase the performance and capacity of server and storage clusters in their distributed computing environment by adding more nodes (scaling out), versus adding more processors to a single computer (scaling up). What enables clusters to harness that compute power, and scale to large numbers of nodes, is ultra-highperformance cluster Server busses are high-bandwidth and low-latency. For a cluster to provide application performance as interconnects. These good as scaling “up” servers, the cluster interconnect must be high-bandwidth and low-latency. networks have highbandwidth for moving petabytes of shared storage for applications such as Seismic Analysis, or they are low-latency for applications such as High Frequency Trading, where billions of calculations are distributed to the cluster for quick completion. Highly distributed (Share Nothing) architectures are moving steadily towards mainstream business computing as a result of the Google MapReduce and Google File System papers. The blue prints were used to establish an Apache open-source framework called Hadoop which includes the MapReduce compute model and a distributed file system. MapReduce divides applications into small pieces distributed on nodes in the cluster, and the file system provides high bandwidth in a cluster. Oracle, SAP and other leading enterprise application vendors are offering data warehousing and other applications based on Hadoop. Bandwidth The amount of data processed or transferred in a given amount of time measured in gigabits per second (Gbps). ‘Throughput’ and ‘Bandwidth’ are used interchangeably. Document # INDUSTRY2012012 v2, February, 2013 Page 3
  • 4. Enhancements to Ethernet Close the Performance Gap From the turn of the millennium until 2011, InfiniBand speed jumped from 10Gb to 20Gb to 40Gb to 56Gb. At the same time, Ethernet bandwidth increased from 1Gb to 10Gb. As a result, InfiniBand networks were adopted in an increasing number of high-performance cluster applications. 104Gb 4x EDR InfiniBand 100GbE In 2011 the Ethernet industry unveiled its first 40GbE adapters and switches, as well as 100GbE switches, immediately closing the performance gap with InfiniBand for bandwidth intensive applications. In the next few years when 4x EDR InfiniBand arrives along with 100Gb Ethernet adapters, InfiniBand and Ethernet will be at parity with end-to-end 100Gb networks. Only a few years ago, QDR InfiniBand had a 400% performance advantage over 10GhE. Today, 56Gb FDR InfiniBand has a 40% advantage over 40GbE. In a few years, 100GbE and 4x EDR InfiniBand will be at parity. For low-latency applications, Ethernet has incorporated Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA)—direct memory access from the memory of one computer into that of another without involving operating systems—a mechanism which allows large low-latency clusters with InfiniBand. With the market for distributed computing taking off, Ethernet Chips from volume Ethernet NIC vendors will include support for RDMA. Special low-latency RDMA over Ethernet networks have been available for several years. Volume Ethernet NIC vendors will be offering support for RDMA in the next few years. Latency Latency is the time between the start and completion of one action measured in microseconds (µs) . Document # INDUSTRY2012012 v2, February, 2013 Page 4
  • 5. Building on Network Bedrock The 99% of Installed LAN/Cluster Interconnect Ports Short term, Ethernet-based HPC networking is just beginning to move from 10Gb technology to 40Gb technology which significantly closes the performance gap with 56Gb FDR InfiniBand. As a result, inertia favors InfiniBand, especially for applications with requirements for the highest bandwidth and lowest latency. This is highlighted by the fact 50% of the Top 500 supercomputers now use InfiniBand and 20% of all HPC networks are InfiniBand networks. Long term, the enhanced performance of Ethernet along with customer’s desire to protect their massive investment in products and expertise, will push InfiniBand into niche applications. Over time, the vast majority of HPC architects and administrators will build on Ethernet which comprises 99% of all network LAN and HPC ports, and the bedrock of their data center networks. LAN and Cluster Interconnect Ports Installed IT Brand Pulse With 99% of combined LAN and HPC network ports installed in the world, Ethernet represents an investment which IT organizations want to protect, as well as the mindshare of most networking professionals. Top 500 The world’s 500 fastest supercomputers, ranked on their performance using the LINPACK benchmark. Document # INDUSTRY2012012 v2, February, 2013 Page 5
  • 6. The Bottom Line The Tectonic Shift has Started The bottom line is this: The tectonic shift in HPC networking started with the availability of 40/100GbE and the convergence of HPC networking onto Ethernet will halt the inertia of InfiniBand in a few short years. Annual sales of 40GbE and 100GbE products are expected to reach $3 billion in 2016, 6x the revenue of InfiniBand in 2012, and 3x of projected InfiniBand product sales in 2016. Related Links To learn more about the companies, technologies, and products mentioned in this report, visit the following web pages: Emulex Network Xceleration (NX) Solutions Top 500 Supercomputer Sites InfiniBand Speed Road Map IT Brand Pulse Datacenter Acceleration About the Author Frank Berry is founder and senior analyst for IT Brand Pulse, a trusted source of data and analysis about IT infrastructure, including servers, storage and networking. As former vice president of product marketing and corporate marketing for QLogic, and vice president of worldwide marketing for Quantum, Mr. Berry has over 30 years experience in the development and marketing of IT infrastructure. If you have any questions or comments about this report, contact frank.berry@itbrandpulse.com. Document # INDUSTRY2012012 v2, February, 2013 Page 6