The SC07 supercomputing conference was a very interesting show for me this year and it was my first time attending this conference. Here are some more interesting products that I haven't covered yet all the way from the very high-end to entry-level HPC computers.
This poster showed a high-level diagram of how Sun's constellation system uses a massive centralized InfiniBand switch to connect multiple blade racks.
This massive 3456-port 20 gbps InfiniBand switch from Sun is the size of a wide refrigerator and it provides 3:1 InfiniBand port consolidation.
This is one of the InfiniBand blades that plugs in to 3456-port switch.
This is the SunBlade 6048 modular blade system. It supports quad-processor quad-socket blade servers using Intel, AMD, and SPARC processors.
<Next page - Verari Systems blade servers>
This is the blade server rack from Verari Systems. It features a bottom to top air flow system rather than the more conventional front-to-back cold-aisle hot-aisle system.
This particular blade is an AMD system that supports Opteron dual-core or "Barcelona" quad-core processors. Verari also offers Intel dual-processor quad-core blades.
This is an interesting storage solution that packs in 12 7200 RPM SATA drives using SAS uplinks to one of the servers. The drives used are the energy efficient Green Power drives from Western Digital that cuts power usage in half. This particular configuration with 12 drives probably uses 56 watts in idle whereas 12 conventional 7200 RPM drives would consume 108 watts in idle. Two of these blades can be attached to a single blade server.
<Next page - Tyan motherboards>
This is Tyan's Intel 5400 series "Stoakley" platform using the new "Seaburg" chipset. It is a performance beast and even managed to unseat AMD's yet-to-be launched Barcelona 2360SE 2.5 GHz processor in SPECfp_rate2006 which is an important benchmark in the HPC market. The system supports 16 fully buffered DDR2-800 DIMMs and up to two Intel 5400 series 45nm quad-core "Harpertown" processors.
This is Tyan's new Tank GT20 (B5375) system based on Intel's 5100 series "San Clemente" chipset. This particular motherboard is validated by Tyan to support 8 unbuffered registered DDR2-667 or DDR2-800 DIMMs which actually goes beyond Intel's official specification of 6 DIMMs max. That means this motherboard can support 32 GBs of 4-GB registered DDR2-667 or DDR2-800 DIMMs which is the same type of memory AMD Opteron and Barcelona systems use. With this type of low-power memory coupled with 80W TDP Intel 5400 series 45nm "Harpertown" processors operating at 3 GHz, the performance/watt is extraordinary.
The Tyan "Transport GT28 (B2935)" system above is an interesting one. It features two dual-processor motherboards in a 1U chassis and each motherboard has 16 registered DDR2-667 DIMM slots. That means you can shove four AMD "Barcelona" quad-core processors and 32 DDR2-667 DIMMs in to a 1U chassis using two system images and two power plugs. The motherboard features DDPM which supports AMD Barcelona's split-plane voltage feature which allows the individual cores to operate at different voltages. Older socket-F motherboards will support AMD's "Barcelona" quad-core Opteron CPU but they can't support these newer features like split-plane voltage.
Note that the four integrated memory controllers you get in those four AMD processors will only drive 16 DIMMs at full speed which is still impressive. Going over 4 DIMMs per processor means DDR2-677 will drop down to DDR2-533 speed. While Barcelona isn't an absolute performance champ, it does offer very good bang/dollar and the use of power efficient unbuffered registered DDR2 memory makes it very competitive in the HPC market. Once the availability issues have been worked out, this will be a very competitive solution.
Super Micro - a major competitor to Tyan - showed off an Intel "Stoakley" based version of this type of server which supports 4 Intel 5400 series 45nm "Harpertown" processors.
<Next page - More solutions from Intel and TST>
This was an interesting system that Intel showed me. It uses two large blowers to cool two Intel X38 motherboards that utilize desktop processors and unregistered unbuffered ECC memory. Each motherboard supports a single Intel dual- or quad-core processor and 4 DIMMs. Because there is only 1 processor per north-bridge memory controller, this can deliver very good performance on memory bandwidth sensitive applications per processor.
While I was talking to Intel, one of their partners TST got in to the discussion about the dual x38 system and what kind of power distribution worked best. TST doesn't use a centralized power supply that distributes DC power to each blade; they favor the use of individual AC power supplies because of their cheap commodity pricing. I checked out some of their hardware offerings the picture above shows how their blade system works. Each blade can contain a dual-processor motherboard with two quad-core processors from Intel or AMD.
These are what the blades from TST looks like. They use standardized 1U "80 Plus" power supplies that are in the 200 to 300 watt range. The fact that each blade has its own power supply means that you don't need to worry about a centralized power supply failure and they're very inexpensive. This is essentially a blade server that uses cheap commodity parts that gives you the pricing of 1U servers but the convenience of a plug-in design. The market has for the most part stayed away from Blade servers because they're more expensive than generic 1U or 2U servers.
I still want to see DC distribution systems with integrated UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) get cheaper and more commoditized because of the power savings of not having to do multiple power conversions. But until that initial acquisition cost lowers and the systems become standardized, blade servers will continue to be proprietary and expensive.