NextIO Brings I/O Virtualization to HPC

By Michael Feldman

July 30, 2009

Although the concept of I/O virtualization has been around for years, the trend to make datacenter infrastructure more cost-, space- and energy-efficient is starting to draw a lot of attention to this technology. The idea is that instead of attaching devices to each server, I/O is consolidated on an external box that can virtualize those resources for multiple servers.

Besides efficiency, one of the biggest advantages to this separation is that compute and I/O can be upgraded independently of one another. In general, CPUs have a relatively short refresh cycle of 12-18 months, while I/O devices tend to have multi-year lifetimes.

The other advantage, of course, is flexibility. Being able to remap I/O on the fly in a datacenter offers a way for system administrators to optimize the storage and network resources without having to manually reconfigure hardware and networks. For cloud computing setups where application demands can be extremely dynamic, this type of flexibility is especially valuable.

Early players like Xsigo and 3Leaf Systems have I/O virtualization solutions that consolidate network and storage connections with an Ethernet/Fibre Channel/InfiniBand gateway box (and associated software) that replaces server-side HBAs and NICs. These solutions can even take the place of multiple top-of-rack switches. The BridgeX gateway from Mellanox is designed along the same lines. In these cases, either Ethernet or InfiniBand is the underlying network used to connect the virtualization gateways to the servers.

Relatively new on the I/O virtualization scene, NextIO has taken a different route by employing PCI Express (PCIe) as both the server-gateway connection and the I/O interface. In effect, the local PCIe interface is extended outside the server. The company’s first generation product for rack servers, the N2800-ICA, is a top-of-rack appliance that offers 14 PCIe x8 connections. Since PCIe is already the common denominator for server I/O, the NextIO appliance is able to support Ethernet, Fibre Channel, InfiniBand, SATA, SAS, SSD, and GPU devices.

GPU virtualization, in particular, is especially relevant for HPC applications. Offloading a lot of heavy-duty numerical computations from the CPU to the GPU often calls for a large GPU-to-CPU ratio. The problem is that the form factor of standard 1U servers doesn’t allow for more than one or two GPUs. For example, the latest GPU-accelerated 1U box from Supermicro incorporates two NVIDIA M1060 Tesla GPUs.

“There are limitations in the way servers are made today,” explains Mike Lance, NextIO’s director of marketing. “In order to get a lot of GPU connectivity per server, you have to buy a very, very expensive server with a lot of PCI express slots. What customers really want is to be able to use their 1U rack servers, which are very low cost, have a lot of compute power and memory to run most applications, and then connect those up to as many GPUs as they can to run their simulation programs.”

The NextIO appliance can support up to six double-wide GPU cards (or twelve single-wide cards), which can be mapped to a single server. Of course, bandwidth is limited by the PCIe link from the server, but since GPU-friendly codes are often compute-bound anyway, I/O communication is usually not the bottleneck. At the SIFMA (Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association) conference last month, NextIO demonstrated good scaling on a Monte Carlo option pricing application using a setup where a 1U server was accessing up to five NVIDIA GPUs connected to its appliance.

Alternatively, GPUs can be shared across multiple servers in a rack. NextIO appliances can also be daisy-chained via a PCIe inter-switch link to aggregate even more resources. For example, one could add some PCIe SSD devices to get one or two million IOPS of storage on top of a GPU-filled appliance. “You can really build a performance-oriented resource pool and then carve it up based on your application demand,” says Chris Pettey, CTO and co-founder of NextIO.

HPC is really a secondary focus for the company. Its primary market is in 10GigE and 8G Fibre Channel consolidation for mainstream datacenter applications. But because it went the PCIe route, it was able to tap into GPU computing and PCIe-based SSD storage acceleration, which just happen to be a good fit for performance-driven applications. Right now, HPC is the company’s most active market, so it’s giving it extra attention. Today it has customers who are using its multi-GPU solution for medical imaging and flight simulations applications, but certainly other HPC application areas are possible.

NextIO’s next generation platform is still in the proof-of-concept stage, but one thing the company is looking at is incorporating the concept of “server personalities.” Basically, a personality defines a server’s I/O characteristics, such as MAC address range, bandwidth guarantee, QoS parameters, boot parameters, WWN address range. System administrators would be able to pre-provision the datacenter with the personalities that match different types of applications (such as Web servers, Exchange servers, SAP servers) and then map those personalities to physical servers dynamically.

In the HPC realm, for example, it would be possible to define dual-GPU and quad-GPU personalities for different applications and then apply those configurations to the same server on the fly as the workload shifted. In a cloud type environment, it might even make sense to mix HPC and non-HPC configurations by constructing an external I/O resource pool with GPUs, SSDs, InfiniBand adapters and Ethernet NICs. “In a normal environment you’re restricted by the physical topology,” says Pettey. “In our environment that would be completely soft, so you can reconfigure your machine based on the demands of your application.”

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!

SRC Spends $200M on University Research Centers

January 16, 2018

The Semiconductor Research Corporation, as part of its JUMP initiative, has awarded $200 million to fund six research centers whose areas of focus span cognitive computing, memory-centric computing, high-speed communicat Read more…

By John Russell

US Seeks to Automate Video Analysis

January 16, 2018

U.S. military and intelligence agencies continue to look for new ways to use artificial intelligence to sift through huge amounts of video imagery in hopes of freeing analysts to identify threats and otherwise put their Read more…

By George Leopold

URISC@SC17 and the #LongestLastMile

January 11, 2018

A multinational delegation recently attended the Understanding Risk in Shared CyberEcosystems workshop, or URISC@SC17, in Denver, Colorado. URISC participants and presenters from 11 countries, including eight African nations, 12 U.S. states, Canada, India and Nepal, also attended SC17, the annual international conference for high performance computing, networking, storage and analysis that drew nearly 13,000 attendees. Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake, STEM-Trek Nonprofit

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE and NREL Take Steps to Create a Sustainable, Energy-Efficient Data Center with an H2 Fuel Cell

As enterprises attempt to manage rising volumes of data, unplanned data center outages are becoming more common and more expensive. As the cost of downtime rises, enterprises lose out on productivity and valuable competitive advantage without access to their critical data. Read more…

When the Chips Are Down

January 11, 2018

In the last article, "The High Stakes Semiconductor Game that Drives HPC Diversity," I alluded to the challenges facing the semiconductor industry and how that may impact the evolution of HPC systems over the next few years. I thought I’d lift the covers a little and look at some of the commercial challenges that impact the component technology we use in HPC. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

SRC Spends $200M on University Research Centers

January 16, 2018

The Semiconductor Research Corporation, as part of its JUMP initiative, has awarded $200 million to fund six research centers whose areas of focus span cognitiv Read more…

By John Russell

When the Chips Are Down

January 11, 2018

In the last article, "The High Stakes Semiconductor Game that Drives HPC Diversity," I alluded to the challenges facing the semiconductor industry and how that may impact the evolution of HPC systems over the next few years. I thought I’d lift the covers a little and look at some of the commercial challenges that impact the component technology we use in HPC. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

Momentum Builds for US Exascale

January 9, 2018

2018 looks to be a great year for the U.S. exascale program. The last several months of 2017 revealed a number of important developments that help put the U.S. Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

ANL’s Rick Stevens on CANDLE, ARM, Quantum, and More

January 8, 2018

Late last year HPCwire caught up with Rick Stevens, associate laboratory director for computing, environment and life Sciences at Argonne National Laboratory, f Read more…

By John Russell

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The @hpcnotes Predictions for HPC in 2018

January 4, 2018

I’m not averse to making predictions about the world of High Performance Computing (and Supercomputing, Cloud, etc.) in person at conferences, meetings, causa Read more…

By Andrew Jones

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? 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

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

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

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? 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

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

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

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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

Nvidia, Partners Announce Several V100 Servers

September 27, 2017

Here come the Volta 100-based servers. Nvidia today announced an impressive line-up of servers from major partners – Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, IBM Read more…

By John Russell

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

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