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!

Data Vortex Users Contemplate the Future of Supercomputing

October 19, 2017

Last month (Sept. 11-12), HPC networking company Data Vortex held its inaugural users group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) bringing together about 30 participants from industry, government and academia t Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AI Self-Training Goes Forward at Google DeepMind

October 19, 2017

DeepMind, Google’s AI research organization, announced today in a blog that AlphaGo Zero, the latest evolution of AlphaGo (the first computer program to defeat a Go world champion) trained itself within three days to play Go at a superhuman level (i.e., better than any human) – and to beat the old version of AlphaGo – without leveraging human expertise, data or training. Read more…

By Doug Black

Researchers Scale COSMO Climate Code to 4888 GPUs on Piz Daint

October 17, 2017

Effective global climate simulation, sorely needed to anticipate and cope with global warming, has long been computationally challenging. Two of the major obstacles are the needed resolution and prolonged time to compute Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Transforming Genomic Analytics with HPC-Accelerated Insights

Advancements in the field of genomics are revolutionizing our understanding of human biology, rapidly accelerating the discovery and treatment of genetic diseases, and dramatically improving human health. Read more…

Student Cluster Competition Coverage New Home

October 16, 2017

Hello computer sports fans! This is the first of many (many!) articles covering the world-wide phenomenon of Student Cluster Competitions. Finally, the Student Cluster Competition coverage has come to its natural home: H Read more…

By Dan Olds

Data Vortex Users Contemplate the Future of Supercomputing

October 19, 2017

Last month (Sept. 11-12), HPC networking company Data Vortex held its inaugural users group at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) bringing together ab Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AI Self-Training Goes Forward at Google DeepMind

October 19, 2017

DeepMind, Google’s AI research organization, announced today in a blog that AlphaGo Zero, the latest evolution of AlphaGo (the first computer program to defeat a Go world champion) trained itself within three days to play Go at a superhuman level (i.e., better than any human) – and to beat the old version of AlphaGo – without leveraging human expertise, data or training. Read more…

By Doug Black

Student Cluster Competition Coverage New Home

October 16, 2017

Hello computer sports fans! This is the first of many (many!) articles covering the world-wide phenomenon of Student Cluster Competitions. Finally, the Student Read more…

By Dan Olds

Intel Delivers 17-Qubit Quantum Chip to European Research Partner

October 10, 2017

On Tuesday, Intel delivered a 17-qubit superconducting test chip to research partner QuTech, the quantum research institute of Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands. The announcement marks a major milestone in the 10-year, $50-million collaborative relationship with TU Delft and TNO, the Dutch Organization for Applied Research, to accelerate advancements in quantum computing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fujitsu Tapped to Build 37-Petaflops ABCI System for AIST

October 10, 2017

Fujitsu announced today it will build the long-planned AI Bridging Cloud Infrastructure (ABCI) which is set to become the fastest supercomputer system in Japan Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Intel Debuts Programmable Acceleration Card

October 5, 2017

With a view toward supporting complex, data-intensive applications, such as AI inference, video streaming analytics, database acceleration and genomics, Intel i Read more…

By Doug Black

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Software Tools to Ease FPGA Programming

September 5, 2017

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have a reputation for being difficult to program, requiring expertise in specialty languages, like Verilog or VHDL. Easin Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Advances Web-based Quantum Programming

September 5, 2017

IBM Research is pairing its Jupyter-based Data Science Experience notebook environment with its cloud-based quantum computer, IBM Q, in hopes of encouraging a new class of entrepreneurial user to solve intractable problems that even exceed the capabilities of the best AI systems. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

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