A group of high-performance computing users and technology vendors led by Sun, Dell, and Intel have launched an open source-based effort to make InfiniBand easier to use with Linux, according to companies involved in the initiative.

The effort, called the OpenIB Alliance, will work to build a common set of software utilities and InfiniBand hardware drivers as well as an implementation of a number of networking protocols, including IP over InfiniBand, and the Message Passing Interface (MPI) protocol used in high-performance computing, members of the Alliance said.

"It's really focused on interoperability and getting all these companies co-operatively working on the marketplace around this software stack," said Stan Skelton, senior director of strategic planning with Engenio Information Technologies, one of the companies involved in the OpenIB Alliance.

The OpenIB Alliance will release software under two separate open source licences, Skelton said - the BSD license used by the Berkeley Software Distribution operating system, and the GNU General Public License, as used by Linux. "While (the OpenIB Alliance) is focused first on Linux, there's no reason why this cannot be applied to the other operating environments," Skelton said.

Other companies involved in the alliance include Topspin Communications, Network Appliance, Mellanox Technologies, Voltaire, and Infinicon Systems.

Two InfiniBand users - Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory - will also be involved in the effort. "Until now, each IHV (independent hardware vendor) has had to roll their own InfiniBand stack," said another OpenIB Alliance participant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "There's been a lot of duplicated effort and a lot of competition where there could be co-operation," he said.

Though InfiniBand hardware vendors have provided their own proprietary software for use with InfiniBand, the OpenIB Alliance will mark the first time they have pooled resources to release software under an open-source licence. "Now it's open source, so in addition to pooling the resources of the vendors we're engaging the user community, both in terms of being able to get patches and bug fixes, but also in terms of giving them a real voice in terms of how we're trying to harness the stack." Eventually, project leaders would like the software to be a part of the standard Linux kernel, the source said.

A common Linux InfiniBand stack is a good idea, said Scott Studham, manager of computer operations with the Pacific Northwest National Lab's Molecular Science Computing Facility. "One of the hardest parts of adopting InfiniBand in high-performance computing is getting a software stack that works," he said. "A lot of the vendors are overly zealous in saying that their stack is mature," he said. "When you try to do anything truly high performance with it, it doesn't work."

What is Infiniband?
Initial applications for InfiniBand are for connecting servers with remote storage and networking devices, and other servers. It will also be used inside servers for inter-processor communication (IPC) in parallel clusters. Benefits include a small form factor, faster performance, lower latency, easier and faster sharing of data, built in security and quality of service, improved usability through hot-pluggability.