Monday, March 31, 2008

Infiniband eyes million-unit market

The pace of growth for Infiniband is on the rise, but so far the interconnect is not gaining much traction in mainstream business applications. That's the conclusion from an updated report from market watchers at International Data Corp.

IDC now expects Infiniband sales on end devices will rise from about 500,000 adapters this year to more than a million in 2011 with revenues jumping from about $125 million to about $275 million. Sales of switch ports will increase from about 600,000 this year to more than one million by 2010 with revenues on that side rising from about $250 million to about $400 million. High performance computers (HPC), database systems running on clusters and financial systems "with HPC-like characteristics" continue to be the drivers, according to IDC.

Mellanox, the sole maker of Infiniband chips, notes that the shift to 20 Gbit/s links is moving quickly with 40 Gbit/s products on the near horizon for this year. "In our last quarter, 79 percent of Mellanox's business was for [20 Gbit/s] DDR products," said Thad Omura, vice president of product marketing at Mellanox.

The chip company naturally wants to drive Infiniband into more mainstream data centers. Omura pointed to three users employing the interconnect as a cost-saving way to consolidate multiple Gbit Ethernet links on to one IB cable, a kind of unified networking approach Sun said it will drive starting later this year probably with the rollout of 40 Gbit products.

Support for Infiniband on VMware 3.5 and for NFS over RDMA in Linux could help grease the way for more such deployments. But for the foreseeable future most users will choose Ethernet if they are cost sensitive rather than a technology upgrade to Infiniband.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Encountering Hong Kong's Octopus

I admit I was skeptical about near field communications. I ignored comments from Intel wireless USB exec Jeff Ravencraft who said contactless cards enable a wonderfully intuitive usage model. Colleagues at EE Times said NFC had an uphill battle. And I thumbed my nose at a fledgling trial in the Bay Area.

But my experience seeing in action the Octopus card in Hong Kong has modified my views. Run by the company of the same name, the service uses Sony's FeliCa NFC technology and is widely popular here. It even comes embedded in watches, stuffed toys and key chains as well as the popular cards that can all be purchased at the local subway station (see picture, right).

It may never take off in America, but I understand it is doing well in Japan, great in Hong Kong where I am presently visiting and likely to spread elsewhere based on this beachhead.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

UWB questions Bluetooth on Wi-Fi

Call it the jealous wife syndrome. The Ultrawideband community has been rumbling since the Bluetooth SIG announced it would create a version of its spec that works over both 802.11abg and UWB. Jack Shandle, editor of the Wireless Net Designline got the folks at Staccato to give the first technical analysis of their concerns.

Jack makes it clear part of the issue may be the competitive politics of the emerging UWB crowd fighting to retain as much as possible of what was going to be an exclusive application. The technical part of the issue, according to the Staccato paper, is that Bluetooth over Wi-Fi may create interference with IMT-2000 and WiMax traffic at distances up to 16 meters. The paper says the industry should conduct more tests and consider defining mitigation schemes or recommending use only of the 5GHz 802.11a spec.

Jack is seeking broader industry comment on the issue, and I'd like to hear what you have to say about it, too.

BTW, I am in the middle of a ten-day Asia trip, thus fewer posts than usual. But ping me if I am missing something big and I'll try to make time to post.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

My old Missouri home

Sam Lucero, a senior analyst for ABI Research released a study this week predicting home automation is finally poised to take off. Zigbee and Z-Wave products are gaining traction as de facto standards and lower cost approaches than yesterday's custom installations and retailers like Best Buy are getting on board with offerings from the likes of 4HomeMedia, iControl Networks, Portus, uControl and Xanboo, he states.

I haven't seen Lucero's report but I am remaining a show-me skeptic. I agree with Lucero who foresees service providers rolling out home automation and security systems as a value-added service. But I don't believe it will happen for a looong time. This year enabling the multi-room DVR is the big focus for many service providers, so automated lights and web cams from Comcast and Verizon are still a way off in my view.

Got some hard evidence to the contrary? Let me know with a posting here or drop me a line at

Monday, March 10, 2008

The return of HomePlug

The HomePlug crew will deliver a fleshed out proposal for a powerline standard by June, in time for a possible first vote on at a July meeting of the IEEE 1901 group. That was the promise from Oleg Logvinov, chief strategy officer of the HomePlug consortium in a recent chat.

HomePlug is responding to charges from competitor DS2 which said the 1901 effort has stalled and the HomePlug group has yet to articulate details of its proposal. HomePlug claimed victory in the standards battle back in October when its proposal was down-selected, but has been slow to deliver a detailed plan. Yet to come is any report from the 1901 group chairman, but that may appear this week on the group's Web site.

Friday, March 07, 2008

HDMI in the notebook

Keith Cowal, a PC marketing manager at Dolby Labs told me today he sees a rising tide of HDMI links going into notebooks. The reasons are two-fold.

Notebooks are incorporating Blu-Ray drives and its AACS technology requires content protected interfaces such as HDM. And OEMs see users plugging notebooks into their TVs and stereos (which already have HDMI) to play Internet and packaged movies and music on the big screens and speakers. Makes sense to me.

I had thought DisplayPort won the war, but Keith says DP will mainly appear in desktops as a link to monitors. I know it will also be used as an LVDS replacement in notebooks, but that doesn't solve the mega problem of how do I play Web video on my HDMI-equipped TVs. Looks like Silicon Image may have a bigger potential revenue stream than I had expected.

A few glitches ahead: To support Dolby's TrueHD audio, you need HDMI 1.3, which is only supported in the latest chip sets. Drivers don't often do a good enough job of identifying HDMI audio interconnects to Windows, and there are still a wide variety of content protection technologies implemented on the PC including Windows' Protected Media Path. But this should all shake out in the next year, Keith says.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Interlaken makes splash in Cisco QFP

One of the key points Cisco Systems makes about its 20 Gbit/s Quantum Flow Processor, officially launched today as secret sauce in the company's new edge router, is that it has plenty of headroom because it is designed for a 40 Gbit/s upgrade. Turns out the Interlaken interconnect Cisco defined with Cortina Systems is the key ingredient in that upgrade.

Cisco will spin a version of the QFP that replaces four SPI 4.2 ports with four Interlaken ports to get the 40 Gbit/s throughput. The QFP internal architecture is already plumbed for 40G, the company claims.

Perhaps this high profile role will help the Interlaken technology see broader industry use beyond the walls of Cisco. Tundra and Altera already support Interlaken, a transport independent protocol that some already run at up to 60 Gbit/s. Perhaps it's time for members of the Optical Internetworking Forum to consider making some version of Interlaken an approved standard along with its own SPI-S.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

More sparks on powerline

Just got an email from Chano Gomez, vice president of technology and strategic partnerships at DS2, who says the IEEE 1901 powerline standard is gridlocked. You will recall from earlier reports, DS2 strongly opposes proposals from the HomePlug consortium to create standard that can use either groups' physical layer technology.

Chano says the standards effort is still in the early days of a process that could take another two years. He notes the HomePlug proposal only allows separate technologies to co-exist not truly interoperate. And he says the HomePlug folk have yet to define the Inter-PHY Protocol at the heart of their proposal.

"Everybody at IEEE P1901 is very disappointed with the lack of progress in the last months," Chano writes.

I have emails out to the 1901 chair and HomePlug reps. If you have a view, post a comment or drop a line at