Topspin to link Sun with InfiniBand

The server company announces that it will use Topspin Communications' hardware and software with its lower-end server line.

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Start-up Topspin Communications will provide Sun Microsystems with hardware and software to let the server company use the high-speed InfiniBand communication technology, Sun announced Friday.

Topspin sells a high-speed switch that can join servers with InfiniBand connections to devices using more conventional networking technology--Ethernet for communicating with other servers or Fibre Channel for communicating with storage devices.

InfiniBand is a standard developed by IBM, Intel, and several other companies so computing devices can be connected with links that transfer large quantities of data with minimal delays.

Under the new agreement, Sun will use Topspin's hardware and software with its lower-end server line.

The move will help Sun advance its N1 strategy to simplify data centers packed with dozens or hundreds of severs, storage systems and network switches. Essentially, Topspin's gear makes it possible to link numerous devices together once, then use software to control which systems actually are communicating with each other without having to replug tangles of cables, Illuminata analyst David Freund said.

Topspin's approach is good because it grafts onto existing networks without requiring administrators to replace what they've got, Freund said.

"A hurdle for (the adoption of) InfiniBand is the response, 'Oh no, it's another network,'" Freund said. But Topspin's approach is gentler on customers. "It's a way to get there in an evolutionary step instead of a revolution, which always involves lots of smoke, noise and blood," Freund said.

Sun also plans to incorporate Topspin software into the Solaris operating system, Sun said.

The deal illustrates Sun's comparatively avid embrace of InfiniBand, a technology once slated for universal adoption in servers but now reduced to a smaller role in supercomputers and data centers. Sun, Dell Computer and IBM went out of their way in late 2002 to voice InfiniBand support, but Sun had the most aggressive plans.

Things haven't been easy for InfiniBand start-ups, as larger companies such as Intel backed away from InfiniBand and existing technologies were extended instead of extinguished. This week, InfiniBand switch maker InfiniSwitch merged with InfiniBand management software maker Lane15.

Lane15 argued it had "the grand, generic InfiniBand management to any vendor's equipment. It just really hasn't gained the traction everybody was hoping," Freund said. With the merger, Lane15's strategy is more strongly tied to just the InfiniSwitch products, he said, a smarter if less ambitious strategy.

The two companies will use the InfiniSwitch name, but Lane15 CEO Alisa Nessler will lead the combined company, and the companies will keep the Lane15 Westborough, Mass., facility as headquarters. InfiniSwitch also announced another round of venture funding as a part of the deal, but didn't disclose the amount of money received.