InfiniBand Building Blocks

*Reposted with permission from Oracle’s Networking Blog and Neeraj Gupta

While writing down this article, I will be referencing to Oracle’s latest Engineered Systems which are built upon InfiniBand technology. Yes, I am talking about Exalogic, Exadata and SuperCluster platforms.

In the smallest and minimalistic configuration, we have a set of hosts connected to a pair of InfiniBand switches in dual star topology. Why two ? To provide you with redundancy. Each host has one dual-port IB HCA and these ports connect to independent IB switches via QSFP copper cables. The switches also have inter links to provide alternate paths across hosts. This pretty much completes our hardware configuration and connectivity inside the rack.

The picture below shows a basic connectivity block diagram. The notion of active and passive is explained further below.

IB-Building-Block-Basic-Blog-diag

Next comes the software components. Each host has required IB software stack built in to the operating system. Each IB switch also has its own software implementation to understand and manage the connected end points. In Linux computing environments, the IB software is based on some version of OFED. One special software worth mentioning here is the Subnet Manager. If this software is not enabled in the network, then what we get is an un-managed InfiniBand network. This is not something we want. The main purpose of subnet manager in the IB network is to enable communication paths across attached hosts, monitor the physical changes in the network periodically and adjust accordingly. In the context of this article, this role is taken up by IB switches. Now we have more than one switch in rack, so which one ? Answer is either one or more then one for redundancy. There is a messaging protocol amongst connected instances of subnet manager and they can negotiate with each other on which one will actually serve the role of subnet management. This is known as Master Subnet Manager. If there are more, they stay as Standby Subnet Managers. In case of a failure on master switch, next switch with a predefined criteria will take up the role.

Now, to give you some details, the subnet manager sweeps the fabric periodically for physical changes, assigns LIDs to end points, creates forwarding tables based on specified routing algorithm in a config file and performs a few more critical functions which I will defer for a later discussion.

With this setup, you are now ready to communicate over layer-2 under OSI model. I have mentioned earlier that technology remains transparent to the upper level protocols (ULP), so IP addresses for layer 3 are assigned at individual hosts just like you do in ethernet based networks. For redundancy, we have a pair of IB interfaces on a bonded interface in active standby mode and an IPv4 address assigned. Let me remind you here that the redundancy or high availability is achieved from hosts’ perspective at layer-3. Both links from hosts are always active from switch and InfiniBand network perspective.

Let me show you an example here to make it more clear.

The screenshot below shows the status of a host’s InfiniBand ports. You can see they are both ‘Active’ with  LIDs assigned and rate is 40 which means they have auto-negotiated to 4X QDR.

IB-Building-Block-Basic-Screenshot-1Now the next screenshot shows the layer-3 configuration which is IPoIB.

IB-Building-Block-Basic-Screenshot-2Lets look at the bonding status now. The following screenshot shows that interface ib0 is active while ib1 is standby. So, this redundancy and high availability is perceived from host at layer-3.

IB-Building-Block-Basic-Screenshot-3

Other hosts in the connected fabric will also look similar with their own IPoIB addresses. This concludes the basic setup of an InfiniBand network and from here on, we should be able to customize and fine tune further in order to utilize this high speed efficient switching fabric for our upper layer applications and protocols.

In my next section, I will write more about how and where to go further from this point. Querying the neighbors, checking fabric health, communicating with other hosts and so on.

*About the author: Neeraj Gupta joined Oracle as part of Sun Microsystems aqusition, where he spent last 11 years specializing in InfiniBand, Ethernet, Security, HA and Telecom Computing Platforms. Prior to joining Sun, Neeraj spent 5 years in Telecom industry focusing on Internet Services and GSM Cellular Networks. Currently Neeraj is part of Oracle’s Engineered Systems team focusing on Networking and Maximum Availability Architecture.

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