Compaq, Intel and Microsoft have jointly announced version 1.0 of the Virtual Interface Architecture (VI Architecture) specification. The specification will allow the design of higher performance clusters of computers, by allowing faster communication between nodes in a cluster.
VI Architecture contains contributions from more than 100 companies, including Oracle, IBM, HP, Digital, Amdahl, Sequent, Siemens-Nixdorf and Compaq?s Tandem subsidiary. It is independent of hardware or operating system.
The architecture defines a standard interface that allows applications to access the network directly, bypassing the OS kernel and protocol stacks.
According to VI Architecture white papers, cluster performance is currently limited by a communication bottleneck. Clustered applications require the constant sending of messages between cluster nodes, for instance for the distributed locking mechanisms required to allow computers to share the same database.
With the emergence of faster networking hardware such as Gigabit Ethernet, the bottleneck has moved to networking software, and more specifically to the latency involved in accessing the network.
VI Architecture cuts down this latency, and also saves CPU cycles by eliminating protocol layers. These protocol layers are necessary in most network communications between heterogeneous machines, but can be dispensed with in the controlled environment of a cluster.
The VI specification is publicly available at http://www.viarch.org. Products based on the spec are expected to come to market in 1998.
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