Incoming: 10 Gigabit Ethernet for HPC

By Dan Tuchler

November 20, 2008

Sure, it’s proven, and a lot of people use it. But like many proprietary technologies, it also has some unappealing characteristics. It demands specialized expertise. It’s not always as fast as advertised. It’s not completely reliable. It certainly doesn’t work and play well with others. Yes, we are talking about InfiniBand.

InfiniBand has been a comfort zone for those tightly-coupled HPC applications that can’t live without their addiction to low latency and high speed. If your application is a science experiment with good funding and no firm schedule, that’s OK. If your application involves business, deadlines, and ROI, it’s time to break out of that comfort zone and acquaint yourself with 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GE).

Fifty seven percent of the TOP500 Supercomputer Sites are already using Gigabit Ethernet interconnects. For many of those sites, that one Gigabit will give them all the speed they’ll ever need. For those applications that really do need a higher performance interconnect, 10GE can provide it — and a host of other advantages as well.

Technology You Know

InfiniBand might be the obvious choice in the HPC world, but compared to the well-known and widely-used Ethernet standard, the comfort level of InfiniBand might be equated to sleeping on a bed of nails. IT executives, network administrators, server vendors, and managed service providers around the world understand Ethernet. They can integrate and update an Ethernet installation within an existing infrastructure, without specialized gateways. They know how to manage it and how to benchmark it. They know what to do if something goes wrong. When it comes to Ethernet, familiarity breeds peace of mind.

More Cost-Effective and Already There

With costs going up, power at a premium, and manageability critical, it’s no surprise that converging and consolidating have become central themes in networking. Converged voice and data networks are becoming pervasive. Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) will merge storage and standard network applications on a common infrastructure. Virtualization is fast becoming a critical technology to support server and storage consolidation in the datacenter.

When it comes to reducing capital and operating expenses, one infrastructure is simply better than two — or more — and the HPC environment is no exception. High-performance computing clusters that use an InfiniBand interconnect also use Ethernet. Ethernet is necessary for user and storage connectivity, and for the management network that orchestrates the cluster. Replacing the InfiniBand interconnect with 10GE to create a single, all-inclusive infrastructure will cut hardware and power costs, and simplify manageability. And, that infrastructure combines high performance with low power needs and a sufficiently low latency for many HPC applications, making it an excellent fit for technical and budget requirements.

Prices are Plummeting

As with many technologies, 10GE was not initially cost-effective for widespread use. In fact, at one point a 10GE connection cost more than the server. But that ship has sailed. Now 10GE is so cost-effective that server vendors are starting to include the technology as a built-in standard feature. And switch prices are falling too. A number of switch vendors are offering 10 GE switches with a list price less than $500 per port.

Stable Network Interface

Some early adopters of 10GE were discouraged by problems with network interface cards (NICs). These problems were related to immature hardware and software drivers and have since been corrected. NIC vendors that could not adapt have dropped out of the market, and 10GE now has a stable network interface environment.

Physical Layer Selected

Many users expected that 10GBase-T would provide a simple, cost-effective solution, but were disappointed with the high cost, high power requirements and 2.6 µsec latency per cable hop. Multiple optics standards also led to some customer confusion, with XenPak, X2, XFP, and now SFP+.

It took a while for 10GE to converge on a single type of attachment, but many users today believe that SFP+ Direct Attach Cable (also known as twinax) is the right solution. SFP+ Direct Attach Cable is a low-cost, low-latency, interoperable solution that uses existing SFP+ sockets and addresses most 10GE challenges for distances up to around ten meters.

Broad Vendor Support

Every networking vendor supports Ethernet, and that support will extend to 40GE and 100GE in the future. Support for InfiniBand is limited to a handful of vendors. With less competition, there will be less innovation, and less incentive to offer competitive pricing and to increase reliability.

It’s Time

New products and advancing technologies have overcome the last hurdles that prevented 10GE from addressing HPC needs:

  • NIC prices will continue to drop as LAN-on-Motherboard (LOM) technology lets NIC vendors reach the high volumes they need to keep costs down.
  • Switch prices are also dropping–prices under $500 per port make 10GE switches cost-effective for business applications.
  • The emerging SFP+ Direct Attach cabling standard avoids the problem of expensive optics and presents a clear solution.
  • Many HPC applications such as Reuter’s RMDS and others achieve equivalent performance numbers on 10GbE and InfiniBand
  • Using some of the latest server blades and comparing DDR InfiniBand with RDMA to 10GE iWarp using a BLADE Network Technologies switch, we have observed similar performance on common HPC applications such as FLUENT, PAM CRASH, VASP and others.

It’s time to bring the benefits of ubiquitous 10GE to the HPC community. For most clusters and most applications, Ethernet brings the advantages of better pricing, higher reliability, plenty of performance, and lower operating costs than InfiniBand. A holistic approach with a single infrastructure will also contribute to reduced costs, while widespread Ethernet expertise will reduce management headaches and support a more efficient environment.

When InfiniBand is Necessary

Some applications will still require the extremely high performance and low latency that is achievable only with InfiniBand. However, IT teams should evaluate project needs carefully before selecting an interconnect technology. Situations that invite InfiniBand include:

The Need For Speed — Performance is a key driver for InfiniBand, but designers need to be aware of the bottom line for performance statistics. Double Data Rate (DDR) technology claims to provide 20 Gbps performance, but the reality is closer to 16 Gbps. Hardware limits in the PCIe gen1 bus in many machines reduce this number even further. With a measurable performance of about 13 Gbps, InfiniBand isn’t a whole lot faster than 10GE. Similarly, Quad Data Rate (QDR) claims 40 Gbps performance, but actually delivers closer to 26 Gbps due to the PCIe gen2 bus–not that much faster than a two-port 10GE switch.

Really Low Latency — Some compute-intensive, tightly-coupled applications, such as those found in the largest national science labs, do demand the extremely low latency that only InfiniBand can provide. However, other applications that are either loosely coupled or simply don’t have an excessive demand for low latency can run perfectly well over 10GE. Many TCP/IP-based applications fall into this category, and many more can be supported by adapters that offload TCP/IP processing. In fact, some TCP/IP applications actually run faster and with lower latency over 10GE than over InfiniBand.

About the Author

Dan Tuchler is Vice President of Strategy and Product Management at BLADE Network Technologies (www.bladenetwork.net). His technology experience spans emerging Ethernet standards, InfiniBand, security, load balancing, content-aware networking, and high-availability.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

IBM Quantum Update: Q System One Launch, New Collaborators, and QC Center Plans

January 10, 2019

IBM made three significant quantum computing announcements at CES this week. One was introduction of IBM Q System One; it’s really the integration of IBM’s existing 20-quibit platform into a more robust, self-contain Read more…

By John Russell

Intel at CES: Nervana; 10nm Server CPU; Cascade Lake

January 9, 2019

On the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, Intel staged a launch event that covered a new version of its Nervana AI processor and a demonstration of the next-generation Xeon 10nm chip. The Read more…

By Staff

IBM’s New Global Weather Forecasting System Runs on GPUs

January 9, 2019

Anyone who has checked a forecast to decide whether or not to pack an umbrella knows that weather prediction can be a mercurial endeavor. It is a Herculean task: the constant modeling of incredibly complex systems to a high degree of accuracy at a local level within very short spans of time. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Systems With Intel Omni-Path: Architected for Value and Accessible High-Performance Computing

Today’s high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence (AI) users value high performing clusters. And the higher the performance that their system can deliver, the better. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Data: The Key To Unlocking Modern Research

Research tackles the big questions, delving into uncharted territory in pursuit of knowledge that could change the world. Today’s research simulations are generating more data than ever before, a trend that shows no signs of slowing. Read more…

The Case Against ‘The Case Against Quantum Computing’

January 9, 2019

It’s not easy to be a physicist. Richard Feynman (basically the Jimi Hendrix of physicists) once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.” This maxim Read more…

By Ben Criger

IBM Quantum Update: Q System One Launch, New Collaborators, and QC Center Plans

January 10, 2019

IBM made three significant quantum computing announcements at CES this week. One was introduction of IBM Q System One; it’s really the integration of IBM’s Read more…

By John Russell

IBM’s New Global Weather Forecasting System Runs on GPUs

January 9, 2019

Anyone who has checked a forecast to decide whether or not to pack an umbrella knows that weather prediction can be a mercurial endeavor. It is a Herculean task: the constant modeling of incredibly complex systems to a high degree of accuracy at a local level within very short spans of time. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

The Case Against ‘The Case Against Quantum Computing’

January 9, 2019

It’s not easy to be a physicist. Richard Feynman (basically the Jimi Hendrix of physicists) once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourse Read more…

By Ben Criger

The Deep500 – Researchers Tackle an HPC Benchmark for Deep Learning

January 7, 2019

How do you know if an HPC system, particularly a larger-scale system, is well-suited for deep learning workloads? Today, that’s not an easy question to answer Read more…

By John Russell

HPCwire Awards Highlight Supercomputing Achievements in the Sciences

January 3, 2019

In November at SC18 in Dallas, HPCwire Readers’ and Editors’ Choice awards program commemorated its 15th year of honoring achievement in HPC, with categories ranging from Best Use of AI to the Workforce Diversity Leadership Award and recipients across a wide variety of industrial and research sectors. Read more…

By the Editorial Team

White House Top Science Post Filled After Two-Year Vacancy

January 3, 2019

Half-way into Trump's term, the Senate has confirmed a director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the agency that coordinates science poli Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Batswana Gems

December 20, 2018

Most who work in the high-performance computing (HPC) industry agree; people problems are far more complicated than technical challenges. As I wrote in a 2015 HPCwire feature titled, “Women in HPC: Revelations and Reckoning,” diversity, or the lack thereof, is the HPC industry’s current grand challenge. Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake

HPC Reflections and (Mostly Hopeful) Predictions

December 19, 2018

So much ‘spaghetti’ gets tossed on walls by the technology community (vendors and researchers) to see what sticks that it is often difficult to peer through Read more…

By John Russell

Quantum Computing Will Never Work

November 27, 2018

Amid the gush of money and enthusiastic predictions being thrown at quantum computing comes a proposed cold shower in the form of an essay by physicist Mikhail Read more…

By John Russell

Cray Unveils Shasta, Lands NERSC-9 Contract

October 30, 2018

Cray revealed today the details of its next-gen supercomputing architecture, Shasta, selected to be the next flagship system at NERSC. We've known of the code-name "Shasta" since the Argonne slice of the CORAL project was announced in 2015 and although the details of that plan have changed considerably, Cray didn't slow down its timeline for Shasta. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

AMD Sets Up for Epyc Epoch

November 16, 2018

It’s been a good two weeks, AMD’s Gary Silcott and Andy Parma told me on the last day of SC18 in Dallas at the restaurant where we met to discuss their show news and recent successes. Heck, it’s been a good year. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

US Leads Supercomputing with #1, #2 Systems & Petascale Arm

November 12, 2018

The 31st Supercomputing Conference (SC) - commemorating 30 years since the first Supercomputing in 1988 - kicked off in Dallas yesterday, taking over the Kay Ba Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

House Passes $1.275B National Quantum Initiative

September 17, 2018

Last Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA) intended to accelerate quantum computing research and developm Read more…

By John Russell

The Case Against ‘The Case Against Quantum Computing’

January 9, 2019

It’s not easy to be a physicist. Richard Feynman (basically the Jimi Hendrix of physicists) once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourse Read more…

By Ben Criger

Contract Signed for New Finnish Supercomputer

December 13, 2018

After the official contract signing yesterday, configuration details were made public for the new BullSequana system that the Finnish IT Center for Science (CSC Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

SC 18 Virtual Booth Video Tour

Advania @ SC18 AMD @ SC18
ASRock Rack @ SC18
DDN Storage @ SC18
HPE @ SC18
IBM @ SC18
Lenovo @ SC18 Mellanox Technologies @ SC18
NVIDIA @ SC18
One Stop Systems @ SC18
Oracle @ SC18 Panasas @ SC18
Supermicro @ SC18 SUSE @ SC18 TYAN @ SC18
Verne Global @ SC18

Nvidia’s Jensen Huang Delivers Vision for the New HPC

November 14, 2018

For nearly two hours on Monday at SC18, Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia, presented his expansive view of the future of HPC (and computing in general) as only he can do. Animated. Backstopped by a stream of data charts, product photos, and even a beautiful image of supernovae... Read more…

By John Russell

HPE No. 1, IBM Surges, in ‘Bucking Bronco’ High Performance Server Market

September 27, 2018

Riding healthy U.S. and global economies, strong demand for AI-capable hardware and other tailwind trends, the high performance computing server market jumped 28 percent in the second quarter 2018 to $3.7 billion, up from $2.9 billion for the same period last year, according to industry analyst firm Hyperion Research. Read more…

By Doug Black

HPC Reflections and (Mostly Hopeful) Predictions

December 19, 2018

So much ‘spaghetti’ gets tossed on walls by the technology community (vendors and researchers) to see what sticks that it is often difficult to peer through Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Confirms 48-Core Cascade Lake-AP for 2019

November 4, 2018

As part of the run-up to SC18, taking place in Dallas next week (Nov. 11-16), Intel is doling out info on its next-gen Cascade Lake family of Xeon processors, specifically the “Advanced Processor” version (Cascade Lake-AP), architected for high-performance computing, artificial intelligence and infrastructure-as-a-service workloads. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Germany Celebrates Launch of Two Fastest Supercomputers

September 26, 2018

The new high-performance computer SuperMUC-NG at the Leibniz Supercomputing Center (LRZ) in Garching is the fastest computer in Germany and one of the fastest i Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Houston to Field Massive, ‘Geophysically Configured’ Cloud Supercomputer

October 11, 2018

Based on some news stories out today, one might get the impression that the next system to crack number one on the Top500 would be an industrial oil and gas mon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Microsoft to Buy Mellanox?

December 20, 2018

Networking equipment powerhouse Mellanox could be an acquisition target by Microsoft, according to a published report in an Israeli financial publication. Microsoft has reportedly gone so far as to engage Goldman Sachs to handle negotiations with Mellanox. Read more…

By Doug Black

The Deep500 – Researchers Tackle an HPC Benchmark for Deep Learning

January 7, 2019

How do you know if an HPC system, particularly a larger-scale system, is well-suited for deep learning workloads? Today, that’s not an easy question to answer Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This