Dell Revs Up HPC Strategy with New Products and Market Focus

By Michael Feldman

September 9, 2010

In the HPC market, Dell has established itself as the number three system vendor, trailing only its larger competitors, HP and IBM. Known for offering no-frills performance servers at reasonable prices, Dell has garnered a particularly strong following in higher education and government labs, especially for small and mid-sized clusters. But a recent spate of purpose-built HPC products from the company points to a subtle shift in Dell’s high performance computing strategy.

During a recent conversation with Donnie Bell, senior manager of HPC Solutions in the Dell Product Group, and Tim Carroll, Dell’s HPC Global Lead, the two reps outlined how the company is treating HPC more as a distinct opportunity, and less like an extension of their enterprise business. The result is that Dell has developed more HPC-specific products and is backing that up with more system testing and validation prior to deployment. “It’s not just about throwing gear out there,” explained Bell. “It’s got to be the gear that they want, put together in the solution they want.”

The shift in strategy has come about over the last three years. Attracted by the bullish HPC market (or at least bullish forecasts thereof) and a seemingly untapped demand for high performance computing, Dell is focusing particularly on the so-called “missing middle,” a term the Council on Competitiveness came up with to identify the potentially large group of unserved users between entry-level and high-end HPC practitioners. “That’s the market that Michael [Dell] said we’re going to invest in,” said Bell.

Of course, what this class of users ultimately wants are turnkey systems that are as easy to use as their desktop systems and don’t require an advanced degree in high performance computing in order to maintain. So far this is beyond the reach of Dell, as well as any of its competitors. Making HPC clusters act like appliances is still the stuff of fantasy.

Where Dell is staking out new ground is in its product mix, which now includes a range of HPC-centric offerings. It wasn’t too long ago that the PowerEdge 1950 was the workhorse server for Dell’s HPC customers. For all intents and purposes, though, the 1950 was an enterprise server pressed into HPC service by necessity. Today Dell offers servers and blades aimed specifically at the performance sector, including the latest HPC-friendly gear: the PowerEdge 6100, M610x, C410x.

The C6100 is the company’s new HPC workhorse, an ultra-dense rackmount server that encapsulates four dual-socket nodes in a 2U form factor. It offers twice the density of an average dual-socket server and is even 20 percent denser than blades. Dell accomplished this feat by sharing the internal infrastructure: power supply, fans and backplane. You can service the nodes individually, and the hard disk drives (either 2.5″ or 3.5″) are hot-pluggable.

The C6100 is available with either Intel “Nehalem” 5500 or “Westmere” 5600 processors. Outfitted with 6-core Westmere CPUs, a single 2U box will deliver 48 cores. Because of its density and power, it’s specifically targeted as a building block for HPC clusters, but can also be used for general Web and cloud installations, where maximum performance is a priority. The C6100 has been shipping since the spring.

Dell recently announced C6100 deployments at the University of Colorado and University of Kentucky. Both systems will be supporting a range of scientific research at those institutions, including climatology, genomics, energy studies, pharmaceutical design, and physics, among others. The Colorado system is big enough to warrant the number 31 spot on the TOP500 list.

The brand new PowerEdge C6105 is the AMD counterpart to the C6100, offering Opteron “Lisbon” 4000 series processors in the same dense 2U enclosure. The 4000 Opterons are the less performant, lower power siblings to the Opteron 6000 processors, so the C6105 is geared more toward the large-scale cloud and Web 2.0 deployments than strict HPC. Availability is still a couple of months away.

On the blade side, the dual-socket PowerEdge M610x is an M610 variant for HPC that includes two x16 PCIe Gen2 slots and two I/O mezzanine cards. (The M610, by the way, is the building block for the newly announced 300 teraflop Lonestar super at TACC.) The PCIe slots on the M610x lets you install a single NVIDIA Tesla (Fermi-class) GPU card, if you want to accelerate data-parallel workloads; or perhaps a Fusion-io ioDrive Duo, if you’re looking for ultra-fast storage. The two mezzanine slots makes dual-rail InfiniBand a possibility, but you also can slot in Ethernet, Fibre Channel, or whatever networking combo you might desire. Like the C6100, the M610x is available with quad-core Xeon 5500s or six-core Xeon 5600s.

Because of the extra connectivity options, the M610x is a full-height blade (unlike its half-height M610 sibling), but still fits neatly in Dell’s M1000e blade chassis. The new blade was announced in June and has been shipping for a couple of months.

If a single GPU per server isn’t enough, Dell is now offering the PowerEdge C410x, a CPU-less 3U box that can house up to 16 Tesla M2050 GPU modules. As of today, that represents the biggest commercial GPGPU box on the market. At the maximum 16-GPU configuration, the C410x can deliver 16.5 teraflops of raw performance.

Of course, tapping into that requires a CPU host, so the C410x conveniently allows connectivity for up to 8 servers. The idea here is to decouple the CPU and GPU so that a customer can mix and match the processor ratios as needed by the application. This could be especially useful in those cases that can take advantage of a high GPU:CPU ratio, like some seismic and physics codes, or where the work is such that the optimal processor ratio varies from one application to another.

If you’re getting the idea that Dell is a little GPU-happy these days, you’re right. According to Bell, the company believes a lot of their HPC customers will be opting for GPU acceleration now, as they chase ever denser performance. Even the new Dell Precision T7500 has a slot for a Tesla C2050 GPU, for those CUDA desktop apps that need a few hundred extra gigaflops to really shine.

“Quantitatively, there are so many more thousands of researchers doing their work on desktops,” said Dell’s Tim Carroll. “But it’s only a matter of time before those people are performing their research on a server somewhere, whether it’s their own, the institution’s, or in the cloud.”

Whether Dell’s new HPC investment yields big dividends is difficult to gauge. Because of the sharp downturn in the global economy in the last couple of years, IT spending has dipped considerably, although less so for HPC. According to Carroll, though, Dell’s HPC business is “seeing growth across the board,” adding that the market seems to be really breaking loose over the last three to four months.

The latest IDC numbers for 2009, which splits out HPC system revenue by vendor, has Dell with a 12.7 percent market share. That’s about half that of IBM’s share at 29.6 percent and HP’s at 28.2. But for mid-sized (departmental) systems, Dell is at 29.8 percent, edged out only by HP at 35.6 percent. That’s a good starting place, especially considering that the size of the HPC pie is forecast to start growing again now that the recession seems to be easing.

Despite the evolution in strategy, Dell still relies on partnerships with vendors like Platform Computing and Terascala to fill in the cluster management and HPC storage pieces of their solution, respectively. And even though the cluster maker is now designing purpose-built HPC systems, it is doing so to fulfill established market demand, rather than for the sake of invention. Contrast that with former HPC maker Sun Microsystems, and its enthusiasm for building exotic hardware, like 3,456-port InfiniBand switches and proximity communication chips.

Dell’s much more conservative innovation strategy is designed to serve the large sweet spot in the middle of the performance market, relying on the acceleration of HPC demand to drive revenue. According to Carroll, the company is still fundamentally about delivering open standards-based commodity clusters, adding, “we want HPC to be widespread and we want to be the ones who deliver that.”

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!

HPE Wins $57 Million DoD Supercomputing Contract

February 20, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) today revealed details of its massive $57 million HPC contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The deal calls for HPE to provide the DoD High Performance Computing Modernizatio Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Topological Quantum Superconductor Progress Reported

February 20, 2018

Overcoming sensitivity to decoherence is a persistent stumbling block in efforts to build effective quantum computers. Now, a group of researchers from Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden) report progress in devisi Read more…

By John Russell

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

February 15, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penalties to HPC applications. Even as these patches are rolled o Read more…

By Pete Beckman

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Safeguard Your HPC Environment with the World’s Most Secure Industry Standard Servers

Today’s organizations operate in an environment with ever-evolving threats, and in order to protect themselves they must continuously bolster their security strategy. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and Intel® are addressing modern security challenges with the world’s most secure industry standard servers powered by the latest generation of Intel® Xeon® Scalable processors. Read more…

Intel Touts Silicon Spin Qubits for Quantum Computing

February 14, 2018

Debate around what makes a good qubit and how best to manufacture them is a sprawling topic. There are many insistent voices favoring one or another approach. Referencing a paper published today in Nature, Intel has offe Read more…

By John Russell

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

February 15, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penal Read more…

By Pete Beckman

Brookhaven Ramps Up Computing for National Security Effort

February 14, 2018

Last week, Dan Coats, the director of Director of National Intelligence for the U.S., warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was likely to meddle in the 2018 mid-term U.S. elections, much as it stands accused of doing in the 2016 Presidential election. Read more…

By John Russell

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Food Industry’s Next Journey — from Mars to Exascale

February 12, 2018

Global food producer and one of the world's leading chocolate companies Mars Inc. has a unique perspective on the impact that exascale computing will have on the food industry. Read more…

By Scott Gibson, Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Singularity HPC Container Start-Up – Sylabs – Emerges from Stealth

February 8, 2018

The driving force behind Singularity, the popular HPC container technology, is bringing the open source platform to the enterprise with the launch of a new vent Read more…

By George Leopold

Dell EMC Debuts PowerEdge Servers with AMD EPYC Chips

February 6, 2018

AMD notched another EPYC processor win today with Dell EMC’s introduction of three PowerEdge servers (R6415, R7415, and R7425) based on the EPYC 7000-series p Read more…

By John Russell

‘Next Generation’ Universe Simulation Is Most Advanced Yet

February 5, 2018

The research group that gave us the most detailed time-lapse simulation of the universe’s evolution in 2014, spanning 13.8 billion years of cosmic evolution, is back in the spotlight with an even more advanced cosmological model that is providing new insights into how black holes influence the distribution of dark matter, how heavy elements are produced and distributed, and where magnetic fields originate. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and 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

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown 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

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

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

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

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

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

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

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

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

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

V100 Good but not Great on Select Deep Learning Aps, Says Xcelerit

November 27, 2017

Wringing optimum performance from hardware to accelerate deep learning applications is a challenge that often depends on the specific application in use. A benc Read more…

By John Russell

SC17: Singularity Preps Version 3.0, Nears 1M Containers Served Daily

November 1, 2017

Just a few months ago about half a million jobs were being run daily using Singularity containers, the LBNL-founded container platform intended for HPC. That wa Read more…

By John Russell

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