Ethernet vs. InfiniBand?

Equal Optics

What powers your network? While Ethernet has been the standard data transfer technology, InfiniBand is a competitive alternative for low-latency, high-bandwidth applications. Both technologies offer distinctive advantages. Explore the benefits of InfiniBand vs. Ethernet today to see what Equal Optics can do to help you accelerate your network with scalable solutions.

How Ethernet Works

The Carrier Sense Multiple Access/Collision Detection (CSMA/CD) access mechanism allows computers to send and receive data. Using both frames and packets, Ethernet sends this information using a direct, high-speed connection. Your Ethernet connection consists of four basic components:

  1. Ethernet cable: A plastic-jacketed cable terminating in RJ45 connectors provides a physical link between devices in a network.
  2. Ethernet adapter: The chip or card that a computer uses to connect to a local area network.
  3. Ethernet port: The physical connection point, also known as a socket or jack, where an Ethernet cable can be connected to and communicate with the device’s Ethernet card.
  4. Ethernet protocol: This refers to the data transmission and component manufacturing standards that were first developed by Xerox in the 1970s.
Ethernet vs. InfiniBand? 
 Equal Optics

Ethernet Cable Options

Before comparing the latency and bandwidth of InfiniBand vs. Ethernet, you need to review the capabilities of different Ethernet cable options. These twisted cables can be shielded or unshielded and have been updated throughout the years to offer higher data transfer rates. These cables are organized into categories, or Cats, with Cat 5 through 8 currently in use. Here are the basic options available for your network:

  • Cat 5: Up to 100 Mbps.
  • Cat 6: Up to 1 Gbps over 100 meters.
  • Cat 7: Up to 40 Gbps over 50 meters and 100 Gbps over 15 meters with 1 GHz bandwidth.
  • Cat 8: Up to 40 Gbps over 30 meters with 2 GHz bandwidth.

Ethernet cabling started with Cat 1, but Cat 1 through Cat 4 are legacy options no longer in use. To invest in the future of their network, many organizations have upgraded to Cat 8.

How InfiniBand Works

While it hasn’t completely replaced Ethernet, InfiniBand has become a significant alternative for high-speed, high-performance networking solutions. Before comparing InfiniBand vs. Ethernet, be sure to review the technology behind this dynamic networking option.

Widely used in supercomputer clusters and networks requiring high-speed, highly interconnected technology, InfiniBand can outperform Ethernet in terms of speed and scalability. It uses non-volatile memory express over fabrics (NVMe-oF) storage protocols and is channel based. The InfiniBand Trade Association (IBTA) developed it as an industry-standard communications specification.

Transmitting Data

Information is sent and received using messages that consist of packets. This structure supports communication through messages of the following types:

  • Multicast transmissions
  • Channel send or receive
  • Read or write operations for remote direct memory access
  • Operations that are reversible and transaction based

Benefits of InfiniBand vs. Ethernet

Compare Ethernet vs. InfiniBand to see why many organizations are migrating to InfiniBand. Below are some of the key features and benefits for your network. Consider each one to see if it’s time to make the transition and use the networking solution used by many supercomputers.

High Reliability

Thanks to its mechanisms for detecting and correcting errors, InfiniBand provides a more reliable data transmission experience. The quality of service allocates resources in an optimal way, prioritizing essential traffic. These features promote enhanced reliability even in high-noise environments. Remote Direct Memory Access can also offload data movement tasks and reduce CPU overhead.

Low Latency

Experience near real-time data transfer with InfiniBand vs. Ethernet. The architecture allows for lower latency than Ethernet, which results in faster transmission and data access. It’s worth noting that you must upgrade the entire network to experience this advantage, but for many organizations, the investment is worth the enhanced latency. You’ll also receive high throughput as part of the low processing overhead of this architecture.

High Bandwidth

Link speeds between 10 and 400 gigabits per second are considerably faster than Ethernet alternatives. InfiniBand can offer this exceptional speed and bandwidth thanks, in part, to the following features:

  • Efficient transport protocols
  • High-speed serial data transmission
  • Low overhead

Simple Scalability

InfiniBand networks don’t have to be concerned with bottlenecks due to network expansion, unlike Ethernet. If your organization migrates to InfiniBand, expanding the size of your network and the data being transmitted won’t affect the speed and efficiency of operations.

High-Performance Workload Support

As a mature technology, InfiniBand is capable of providing a stable environment. Thanks to its reliability and efficiency, it offers the kind of environment you need for a high-performance workload.

Disadvantages of InfiniBand vs. Ethernet

While InfiniBand offers significant advantages for organizations and data center solutions, it isn’t a clear-cut decision when comparing Ethernet vs. InfiniBand. Review the following disadvantages of InfiniBand to see if your network may be better with Ethernet solutions.

Distance Limitations

The exact maximum distance of InfiniBand links varies depending on the connections and cable. In general, however, InfiniBand connections are limited to shorter distances than Ethernet cables. Some connections must be within a few meters, while others can reach up to several kilometers, depending on the generations of InfiniBand cable and optical modules. For large facilities or interconnected facilities, this may not be an effective solution.

Cost of Investment

Most organizations have an existing Ethernet network. This means that one of the considerations for upgrading to InfiniBand vs. Ethernet is the upfront investment. Your network will not only need new cables and other equipment but also new configurations.

Availability Concerns

If you wish to make the switch to InfiniBand, you won’t have a list of suppliers to compare. NVIDIA is currently the only vendor that sells end-to-end IB products. While NVIDIA is a reliable vendor offering various InfiniBand options, some organizations are concerned with the lack of vendor options.

Find the Right Infrastructure Option With Equal Optics

Discover whether InfiniBand vs. Ethernet is right for you with Equal Optics. Both options offer distinct advantages for specific network requirements. Request a quote today to learn more about the key difference and which option is right for your organization. Navigate the future of networking solutions with our team of specialists.


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