Sun Revamps HPC Offerings

By Michael Feldman

April 14, 2009

Even as analysts and customers wonder whether Sun Microsystems will continue to survive on its own — or whether it wants to — the company continues to push new products out the door. On Tuesday, at Sun’s Parter Summit in Las Vegas, the company introduced a number of new offerings, mostly centered on the recently launched Xeon 5500 (Nehalem EP) chips. The products aimed at the HPC space include a rack server, two new Constellation-class blades, a Lustre-based storage system, a number of rather interesting InfiniBand products, and a Sun cooling door. According to Michael Brown, Sun’s marketing manager for HPC, the upgraded product set represents “almost an end-to-end revamp of the HPC offerings.”

Perhaps the simplest new offering is the X2270 rack server, a 1U dual-socket box that incorporates the new Nehalem EP chips. The X2270 is basically an upgrade of the X2250, which used the previous generation Harpertown processors. The rack servers are targeted at mid-sized commercial HPC environments, such as you might find in financial services or electronic design.

But Sun has directed most of its engineering smarts at the Constellation blade systems, where the new Nehalem processors and Quad Data Rate (QDR) InfiniBand technology have been used to build a more advanced platform for high-end clusters. The key new product is the Nehalem-equipped X6275 blade, a dual-node blade, where each node can house two quad-core chips. (In essence, Sun built a four-socket blade with dual-socket hardware.) Doing the math, that means each blade provides 16 cores, and thanks to Nehalem’s simultaneous multithreading, up to 32 threads.

The blade fits into Sun’s 6048 chassis, and because it’s a dual-node setup, 96 nodes (768 cores) can be squeezed into a single 42U enclosure. At this maximum configuration, a single chassis can deliver 9 teraflops. Although that’s rather impressive, according to Sun’s own Web site, that would work out to only 0.8 teraflops better than an enclosure fully populated with the X6440, the company’s four-socket AMD quad-core blade. Note also that the Intel blade memory maxes out at 192 GB (that is, as soon as the 8 GB DDR3 server DIMMs hit the streets), while the AMD blade can house up to 256 GB, although the latter uses the somewhat slower DDR2 memory.

What really sets the X6275 apart are the new networking and I/O capabilities, which will allow the blade to inhabit petaflop-sized systems with thousands of CPUs. Each node includes an onboard QDR InfiniBand host channel adapter (HCA), Gigabit Ethernet, and a PCIe ExpressModule slot. A SATA interface is also available to connect to an optional Sun flash module, which offers 24 GB of high performance storage per node. It’s designed for users interested in saving state, having a scratch data area, or booting an OS. Since the flash module is hooked up to a SATA controller, to the apps it looks like a hard drive.

The other new blade is the X6270, which is less computationally dense and is geared for more general-purpose HPC and commercial duty. This one is a full-height blade that is a single-node version of the x6275, and can hold up to 144 GB of memory. Since it only has half as many cores as its dual-node sibling, the x6270 actually offers a better byte per flop ratio. It also provides four interfaces for on-board disks, with optional RAID, plus two GigE ports. The better memory ratio, additional I/O and extra networking make this blade more versatile, and it would tend to be a better fit where compute density is not the overriding factor, as, for example, in the head node of an HPC cluster.

Along with the blades, Sun announced a number of new Sun-branded InfiniBand products. The first one is a QDR InfiniBand Network Express Module (NEM) for the 6048 chassis. It’s essentially an InfiniBand leaf switch that can link up to 24 nodes. Since four of these modules fit in a single 6048 enclosure, all 96 nodes can be accommodated without any external switch hardware. The NEMs can be directly connected to datacenter InfiniBand switches in a fat-tree topology or to other NEMs in a 3D torus mesh. The goal here is to reduce cables and extra switch hardware in these ultra-dense blade setups.

Sticking with the InfiniBand theme, Sun also introduced a PCI Express QDR InfiniBand expansion module, which can provide a second QDR link via the PCIe interface. The additional link means you can have 80 Gbps of InfiniBand per node, which could be split between compute and storage, or simply aggregated for additional bandwidth.

In addition, the company previewed its “Project M9,” a 648-port InfiniBand datacenter switch. The hardware will be based on the same technology as Sun’s current 3,456-port switch used in TACC’s Ranger supercomputer cluster. According to Brown, the M9 will use 75 percent less space than traditional InfiniBand switches and will make use of 12X InfiniBand cabling, which will allow it to route three connections per cable. Once again, the idea is to minimize the hardware footprint. Brown notes the upcoming switch could be used to hook together non-Sun servers and storage.

Also announced was Sun’s new cooling door, which was previewed in November at SC08. The door fits in the rear of a 6048 chassis and relies on passive cooling, so no additional fans or power is required. There are two flavors: one that uses chilled water and one that uses a refrigerant gas. They are designed to handle a thermal load of up to 35KW per rack. Since studies show this type of system can reduce cooling costs by up to 84 percent, more and more datacenters are turning to liquid cooling to cut down on power consumption.

On the storage side, Sun has unveiled an integrated Lustre storage system, which is designed to scale from 48 TB up to multiple petabytes. The storage component options include the Sun Fire X4540 and X4250, and the Sun Storage J4400 and J4200 storage arrays. Expansion is accomplished by adding more storage modules. The idea here is to offer a pre-packaged Lustre solution for HPC apps. Since the system is not tied to Sun server gear, Brown thinks there’s an opportunity to sell these systems to HPC users whose systems are under-configured from a storage perspective. He says Sun has some early customers for the systems, but they haven’t gone public yet.

A number of customers have already signed up for Constellation supers based on the new hardware, including the Australian National University (ANU), Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology, South Africa’s Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) and the University of Zurich. These are in addition to installations of Nehalem-based blades at Sandia National Laboratories, Forschungszentrum Jülich, and RWTH Aachen University, which were announced back in November.

As far as how these new offerings will play in a depressed economy, Brown thinks that despite the current downturn, there’s still a lot of demand for high performance computing gear. “We’re seeing very strong uptake in the HPC area,” he says. “We’ve sold over two petaflops of HPC solutions based on Sun blade design.” Brown says he’s spoken with a number of people in the higher education sector that are applying for supplemental NSF and NIH funding that will be drawn from the US government’s stimulus package. Brown realizes that not all of that money will be heading to Sun, but he’s optimistic that the company will see its fair share.

Overshadowing all these announcements is the question of whether Sun plans to sell the business or go it alone. Since the IBM deal devolved into an April fool’s joke, Sun’s uncertain status has left customers wondering about the future of the company. Sun is not speaking publicly about its next move, so for the time being, it looks like the company will let its products do the talking.

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!

Exascale Escapes 2018 Budget Axe; Rest of Science Suffers

May 23, 2017

President Trump's proposed $4.1 trillion FY 2018 budget is good for U.S. exascale computing development, but grim for the rest of science and technology spend Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hedge Funds (with Supercomputing help) Rank First Among Investors

May 22, 2017

In case you didn’t know, The Quants Run Wall Street Now, or so says a headline in today’s Wall Street Journal. Quant-run hedge funds now control the largest Read more…

By John Russell

IBM, D-Wave Report Quantum Computing Advances

May 18, 2017

IBM said this week it has built and tested a pair of quantum computing processors, including a prototype of a commercial version. That progress follows an an Read more…

By George Leopold

PRACEdays 2017 Wraps Up in Barcelona

May 18, 2017

Barcelona has been absolutely lovely; the weather, the food, the people. I am, sadly, finishing my last day at PRACEdays 2017 with two sessions: an in-depth loo Read more…

By Kim McMahon

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Exploring the Three Models of Remote Visualization

The explosion of data and advancement of digital technologies are dramatically changing the way many companies do business. With the help of high performance computing (HPC) solutions and data analytics platforms, manufacturers are developing products faster, healthcare providers are improving patient care, and energy companies are improving planning, exploration, and production. Read more…

US, Europe, Japan Deepen Research Computing Partnership

May 18, 2017

On May 17, 2017, a ceremony was held during the PRACEdays 2017 conference in Barcelona to announce the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between PRACE in Europe Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

NSF, IARPA, and SRC Push into “Semiconductor Synthetic Biology” Computing

May 18, 2017

Research into how biological systems might be fashioned into computational technology has a long history with various DNA-based computing approaches explored. N Read more…

By John Russell

DOE’s HPC4Mfg Leads to Paper Manufacturing Improvement

May 17, 2017

Papermaking ranks third behind only petroleum refining and chemical production in terms of energy consumption. Recently, simulations made possible by the U.S. D Read more…

By John Russell

PRACEdays 2017: The start of a beautiful week in Barcelona

May 17, 2017

Touching down in Barcelona on Saturday afternoon, it was warm, sunny, and oh so Spanish. I was greeted at my hotel with a glass of Cava to sip and treated to a Read more…

By Kim McMahon

Exascale Escapes 2018 Budget Axe; Rest of Science Suffers

May 23, 2017

President Trump's proposed $4.1 trillion FY 2018 budget is good for U.S. exascale computing development, but grim for the rest of science and technology spend Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Cray Offers Supercomputing as a Service, Targets Biotechs First

May 16, 2017

Leading supercomputer vendor Cray and datacenter/cloud provider the Markley Group today announced plans to jointly deliver supercomputing as a service. The init Read more…

By John Russell

HPE’s Memory-centric The Machine Coming into View, Opens ARMs to 3rd-party Developers

May 16, 2017

Announced three years ago, HPE’s The Machine is said to be the largest R&D program in the venerable company’s history, one that could be progressing tow Read more…

By Doug Black

What’s Up with Hyperion as It Transitions From IDC?

May 15, 2017

If you’re wondering what’s happening with Hyperion Research – formerly the IDC HPC group – apparently you are not alone, says Steve Conway, now senior V Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia’s Mammoth Volta GPU Aims High for AI, HPC

May 10, 2017

At Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference (GTC17) in San Jose, Calif., this morning, CEO Jensen Huang announced the company's much-anticipated Volta architecture a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Launches Servers, Services, and Collaboration at GTC

May 10, 2017

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) today launched a new liquid cooled GPU-driven Apollo platform based on SGI ICE architecture, a new collaboration with NVIDIA, a Read more…

By John Russell

IBM PowerAI Tools Aim to Ease Deep Learning Data Prep, Shorten Training 

May 10, 2017

A new set of GPU-powered AI software announced by IBM today brings automation to many of the tedious, time consuming and complex aspects of AI project on-rampin Read more…

By Doug Black

Bright Computing 8.0 Adds Azure, Expands Machine Learning Support

May 9, 2017

Bright Computing, long a prominent provider of cluster management tools for HPC, today released version 8.0 of Bright Cluster Manager and Bright OpenStack. The Read more…

By John Russell

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Just how close real-wo Read more…

By John Russell

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the cam Read more…

By John Russell

Google Pulls Back the Covers on Its First Machine Learning Chip

April 6, 2017

This week Google released a report detailing the design and performance characteristics of the Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), its custom ASIC for the inference Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Last week, Google reported that its custom ASIC Tensor Processing Unit (TPU) was 15-30x faster for inferencing workloads than Nvidia's K80 GPU (see our coverage Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

Since our first formal product releases of OSPRay and OpenSWR libraries in 2016, CPU-based Software Defined Visualization (SDVis) has achieved wide-spread adopt Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

TSUBAME3.0 Points to Future HPE Pascal-NVLink-OPA Server

February 17, 2017

Since our initial coverage of the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer yesterday, more details have come to light on this innovative project. Of particular interest is a ne Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia’s Mammoth Volta GPU Aims High for AI, HPC

May 10, 2017

At Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference (GTC17) in San Jose, Calif., this morning, CEO Jensen Huang announced the company's much-anticipated Volta architecture a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Facebook Open Sources Caffe2; Nvidia, Intel Rush to Optimize

April 18, 2017

From its F8 developer conference in San Jose, Calif., today, Facebook announced Caffe2, a new open-source, cross-platform framework for deep learning. Caffe2 is Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tokyo Tech’s TSUBAME3.0 Will Be First HPE-SGI Super

February 16, 2017

In a press event Friday afternoon local time in Japan, Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) announced its plans for the TSUBAME3.0 supercomputer, which w Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Is Liquid Cooling Ready to Go Mainstream?

February 13, 2017

Lost in the frenzy of SC16 was a substantial rise in the number of vendors showing server oriented liquid cooling technologies. Three decades ago liquid cooling Read more…

By Steve Campbell

MIT Mathematician Spins Up 220,000-Core Google Compute Cluster

April 21, 2017

On Thursday, Google announced that MIT math professor and computational number theorist Andrew V. Sutherland had set a record for the largest Google Compute Eng Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Wants to be “Red Hat” of Deep Learning

January 26, 2017

IBM today announced the addition of TensorFlow and Chainer deep learning frameworks to its PowerAI suite of deep learning tools, which already includes popular Read more…

By John Russell

US Supercomputing Leaders Tackle the China Question

March 15, 2017

As China continues to prove its supercomputing mettle via the Top500 list and the forward march of its ambitious plans to stand up an exascale machine by 2020, Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Technique Propels Deep Learning at Scale

February 21, 2017

Researchers from Baidu's Silicon Valley AI Lab (SVAIL) have adapted a well-known HPC communication technique to boost the speed and scale of their neural networ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DOE Supercomputer Achieves Record 45-Qubit Quantum Simulation

April 13, 2017

In order to simulate larger and larger quantum systems and usher in an age of "quantum supremacy," researchers are stretching the limits of today's most advance Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This