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!

Why HPC Storage Matters More Now Than Ever: Analyst Q&A

September 17, 2021

With soaring data volumes and insatiable computing driving nearly every facet of economic, social and scientific progress, data storage is seizing the spotlight. Hyperion Research analyst and noted storage expert Mark No Read more…

GigaIO Gets $14.7M in Series B Funding to Expand Its Composable Fabric Technology to Customers

September 16, 2021

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, GigaIO introduced its Universal Composable Fabric technology, which allows enterprises to bring together any HPC and AI resources and integrate them with networking, Read more…

What’s New in HPC Research: Solar Power, ExaWorks, Optane & More

September 16, 2021

In this regular feature, HPCwire highlights newly published research in the high-performance computing community and related domains. From parallel programming to exascale to quantum computing, the details are here. Read more…

Cerebras Brings Its Wafer-Scale Engine AI System to the Cloud

September 16, 2021

Five months ago, when Cerebras Systems debuted its second-generation wafer-scale silicon system (CS-2), co-founder and CEO Andrew Feldman hinted of the company’s coming cloud plans, and now those plans have come to fruition. Today, Cerebras and Cirrascale Cloud Services are launching... Read more…

AI Hardware Summit: Panel on Memory Looks Forward

September 15, 2021

What will system memory look like in five years? Good question. While Monday's panel, Designing AI Super-Chips at the Speed of Memory, at the AI Hardware Summit, tackled several topics, the panelists also took a brief glimpse into the future. Unlike compute, storage and networking, which... Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

Supporting Climate Model Simulations to Accelerate Climate Science

The Amazon Sustainability Data Initiative (ASDI), AWS is donating cloud resources, technical support, and access to scalable infrastructure and fast networking providing high performance computing (HPC) solutions to support simulations of near-term climate using the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Community Earth System Model Version 2 (CESM2) and its Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model (WACCM). Read more…

ECMWF Opens Bologna Datacenter in Preparation for Atos Supercomputer

September 14, 2021

In January 2020, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) – a juggernaut in the weather forecasting scene – signed a four-year, $89-million contract with European tech firm Atos to quintuple its supercomputing capacity. With the deal approaching the two-year mark, ECMWF... Read more…

Why HPC Storage Matters More Now Than Ever: Analyst Q&A

September 17, 2021

With soaring data volumes and insatiable computing driving nearly every facet of economic, social and scientific progress, data storage is seizing the spotlight Read more…

Cerebras Brings Its Wafer-Scale Engine AI System to the Cloud

September 16, 2021

Five months ago, when Cerebras Systems debuted its second-generation wafer-scale silicon system (CS-2), co-founder and CEO Andrew Feldman hinted of the company’s coming cloud plans, and now those plans have come to fruition. Today, Cerebras and Cirrascale Cloud Services are launching... Read more…

AI Hardware Summit: Panel on Memory Looks Forward

September 15, 2021

What will system memory look like in five years? Good question. While Monday's panel, Designing AI Super-Chips at the Speed of Memory, at the AI Hardware Summit, tackled several topics, the panelists also took a brief glimpse into the future. Unlike compute, storage and networking, which... Read more…

ECMWF Opens Bologna Datacenter in Preparation for Atos Supercomputer

September 14, 2021

In January 2020, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) – a juggernaut in the weather forecasting scene – signed a four-year, $89-million contract with European tech firm Atos to quintuple its supercomputing capacity. With the deal approaching the two-year mark, ECMWF... Read more…

Quantum Computer Market Headed to $830M in 2024

September 13, 2021

What is one to make of the quantum computing market? Energized (lots of funding) but still chaotic and advancing in unpredictable ways (e.g. competing qubit tec Read more…

Amazon, NCAR, SilverLining Team for Unprecedented Cloud Climate Simulations

September 10, 2021

Earth’s climate is, to put it mildly, not in a good place. In the wake of a damning report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientis Read more…

After Roadblocks and Renewals, EuroHPC Targets a Bigger, Quantum Future

September 9, 2021

The EuroHPC Joint Undertaking (JU) was formalized in 2018, beginning a new era of European supercomputing that began to bear fruit this year with the launch of several of the first EuroHPC systems. The undertaking, however, has not been without its speed bumps, and the Union faces an uphill... Read more…

How Argonne Is Preparing for Exascale in 2022

September 8, 2021

Additional details came to light on Argonne National Laboratory’s preparation for the 2022 Aurora exascale-class supercomputer, during the HPC User Forum, held virtually this week on account of pandemic. Exascale Computing Project director Doug Kothe reviewed some of the 'early exascale hardware' at Argonne, Oak Ridge and NERSC (Perlmutter), while Ti Leggett, Deputy Project Director & Deputy Director... Read more…

Ahead of ‘Dojo,’ Tesla Reveals Its Massive Precursor Supercomputer

June 22, 2021

In spring 2019, Tesla made cryptic reference to a project called Dojo, a “super-powerful training computer” for video data processing. Then, in summer 2020, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted: “Tesla is developing a [neural network] training computer called Dojo to process truly vast amounts of video data. It’s a beast! … A truly useful exaflop at de facto FP32.” Read more…

Berkeley Lab Debuts Perlmutter, World’s Fastest AI Supercomputer

May 27, 2021

A ribbon-cutting ceremony held virtually at Berkeley Lab's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) today marked the official launch of Perlmutter – aka NERSC-9 – the GPU-accelerated supercomputer built by HPE in partnership with Nvidia and AMD. Read more…

Esperanto, Silicon in Hand, Champions the Efficiency of Its 1,092-Core RISC-V Chip

August 27, 2021

Esperanto Technologies made waves last December when it announced ET-SoC-1, a new RISC-V-based chip aimed at machine learning that packed nearly 1,100 cores onto a package small enough to fit six times over on a single PCIe card. Now, Esperanto is back, silicon in-hand and taking aim... Read more…

Enter Dojo: Tesla Reveals Design for Modular Supercomputer & D1 Chip

August 20, 2021

Two months ago, Tesla revealed a massive GPU cluster that it said was “roughly the number five supercomputer in the world,” and which was just a precursor to Tesla’s real supercomputing moonshot: the long-rumored, little-detailed Dojo system. “We’ve been scaling our neural network training compute dramatically over the last few years,” said Milan Kovac, Tesla’s director of autopilot engineering. Read more…

CentOS Replacement Rocky Linux Is Now in GA and Under Independent Control

June 21, 2021

The Rocky Enterprise Software Foundation (RESF) is announcing the general availability of Rocky Linux, release 8.4, designed as a drop-in replacement for the soon-to-be discontinued CentOS. The GA release is launching six-and-a-half months after Red Hat deprecated its support for the widely popular, free CentOS server operating system. The Rocky Linux development effort... Read more…

Google Launches TPU v4 AI Chips

May 20, 2021

Google CEO Sundar Pichai spoke for only one minute and 42 seconds about the company’s latest TPU v4 Tensor Processing Units during his keynote at the Google I Read more…

Intel Completes LLVM Adoption; Will End Updates to Classic C/C++ Compilers in Future

August 10, 2021

Intel reported in a blog this week that its adoption of the open source LLVM architecture for Intel’s C/C++ compiler is complete. The transition is part of In Read more…

AMD-Xilinx Deal Gains UK, EU Approvals — China’s Decision Still Pending

July 1, 2021

AMD’s planned acquisition of FPGA maker Xilinx is now in the hands of Chinese regulators after needed antitrust approvals for the $35 billion deal were receiv Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Hot Chips: Here Come the DPUs and IPUs from Arm, Nvidia and Intel

August 25, 2021

The emergence of data processing units (DPU) and infrastructure processing units (IPU) as potentially important pieces in cloud and datacenter architectures was Read more…

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from Julialang.org. I Read more…

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

HPE Wins $2B GreenLake HPC-as-a-Service Deal with NSA

September 1, 2021

In the heated, oft-contentious, government IT space, HPE has won a massive $2 billion contract to provide HPC and AI services to the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA). Following on the heels of the now-canceled $10 billion JEDI contract (reissued as JWCC) and a $10 billion... Read more…

Quantum Roundup: IBM, Rigetti, Phasecraft, Oxford QC, China, and More

July 13, 2021

IBM yesterday announced a proof for a quantum ML algorithm. A week ago, it unveiled a new topology for its quantum processors. Last Friday, the Technical Univer Read more…

Intel Launches 10nm ‘Ice Lake’ Datacenter CPU with Up to 40 Cores

April 6, 2021

The wait is over. Today Intel officially launched its 10nm datacenter CPU, the third-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processor, codenamed Ice Lake. With up to 40 Read more…

Frontier to Meet 20MW Exascale Power Target Set by DARPA in 2008

July 14, 2021

After more than a decade of planning, the United States’ first exascale computer, Frontier, is set to arrive at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) later this year. Crossing this “1,000x” horizon required overcoming four major challenges: power demand, reliability, extreme parallelism and data movement. Read more…

Intel Unveils New Node Names; Sapphire Rapids Is Now an ‘Intel 7’ CPU

July 27, 2021

What's a preeminent chip company to do when its process node technology lags the competition by (roughly) one generation, but outmoded naming conventions make it seem like it's two nodes behind? For Intel, the response was to change how it refers to its nodes with the aim of better reflecting its positioning within the leadership semiconductor manufacturing space. Intel revealed its new node nomenclature, and... Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire