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!

SC Bids Farewell to Denver, Heads to Dallas for 30th

November 17, 2017

After a jam-packed four-day expo and intensive six-day technical program, SC17 has wrapped up another successful event that brought together nearly 13,000 visitors to the Colorado Convention Center in Denver for the larg Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC17 Keynote – HPC Powers SKA Efforts to Peer Deep into the Cosmos

November 17, 2017

This week’s SC17 keynote – Life, the Universe and Computing: The Story of the SKA Telescope – was a powerful pitch for the potential of Big Science projects that also showcased the foundational role of high performance computing in modern science. It was also visually stunning. Read more…

By John Russell

How Cities Use HPC at the Edge to Get Smarter

November 17, 2017

Cities are sensoring up, collecting vast troves of data that they’re running through predictive models and using the insights to solve problems that, in some cases, city managers didn’t even know existed. Speaking Read more…

By Doug Black

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Harness Scalable Petabyte Storage with HPE Apollo 4510 and HPE StoreEver

As a growing number of connected devices challenges IT departments to rapidly collect, manage, and store troves of data, organizations must adopt a new generation of IT to help them operate quickly and intelligently. Read more…

SC17 Student Cluster Competition Configurations: Fewer Nodes, Way More Accelerators

November 16, 2017

The final configurations for each of the SC17 “Donnybrook in Denver” Student Cluster Competition have been released. Fortunately, each team received their equipment shipments on time and undamaged, so the teams are r Read more…

By Dan Olds

SC Bids Farewell to Denver, Heads to Dallas for 30th

November 17, 2017

After a jam-packed four-day expo and intensive six-day technical program, SC17 has wrapped up another successful event that brought together nearly 13,000 visit Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC17 Keynote – HPC Powers SKA Efforts to Peer Deep into the Cosmos

November 17, 2017

This week’s SC17 keynote – Life, the Universe and Computing: The Story of the SKA Telescope – was a powerful pitch for the potential of Big Science projects that also showcased the foundational role of high performance computing in modern science. It was also visually stunning. Read more…

By John Russell

How Cities Use HPC at the Edge to Get Smarter

November 17, 2017

Cities are sensoring up, collecting vast troves of data that they’re running through predictive models and using the insights to solve problems that, in some Read more…

By Doug Black

Student Cluster LINPACK Record Shattered! More LINs Packed Than Ever before!

November 16, 2017

Nanyang Technological University, the pride of Singapore, utterly destroyed the Student Cluster Competition LINPACK record by posting a score of 51.77 TFlop/s a Read more…

By Dan Olds

Hyperion Market Update: ‘Decent’ Growth Led by HPE; AI Transparency a Risk Issue

November 15, 2017

The HPC market update from Hyperion Research (formerly IDC) at the annual SC conference is a business and social “must,” and this year’s presentation at S Read more…

By Doug Black

Nvidia Focuses Its Cloud Containers on HPC Applications

November 14, 2017

Having migrated its top-of-the-line datacenter GPU to the largest cloud vendors, Nvidia is touting its Volta architecture for a range of scientific computing ta Read more…

By George Leopold

HPE Launches ARM-based Apollo System for HPC, AI

November 14, 2017

HPE doubled down on its memory-driven computing vision while expanding its processor portfolio with the announcement yesterday of the company’s first ARM-base Read more…

By Doug Black

OpenACC Shines in Global Climate/Weather Codes

November 14, 2017

OpenACC, the directive-based parallel programming model used mostly for porting codes to GPUs for use on heterogeneous systems, came to SC17 touting impressive 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

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

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

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

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

Leading Solution Providers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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