Appro Slings Overclocked Server for High Frequency Traders

By Michael Feldman

October 12, 2010

HPC cluster maker Appro has unveiled the HF1 server, a purpose-built box aimed at the high frequency trading business. The new server incorporates overclocked Intel Xeon “Westmere” CPUs and a self-contained liquid cooling system to deliver the best dual-socket performance this side of a tricked-out gaming machine. Although the risky design isn’t geared for mainstream HPC users, for high frequency traders, it may be just the kind of gamble they are comfortable with.

The multi-billion dollar business of high frequency trading (HFT) is based on a special variant of algorithmic trading, wherein high-powered computers are hooked up to low-latency market feeds, in order to execute lightening fast trades. Typical participants include investment banks, hedge funds, and proprietary HFT firms who specialize in this type of operation. The general idea is to slice small profits from each trade by anticipating pricing ahead of other investors. To make a profit, though, many trades have to be executed on a daily basis, so a typical asset is only held for a very short time. This requires extremely fast networks and even faster computers.

For HFT, the performance of the network ultimately limits the speed of trading, but as network latency drives toward zero, the playing field has become more even. Now HFT’ers are looking to what goes on inside the server boxes to get their competitive edge. One way to speed up the software that decides which trades to make is to make the processors themselves faster. Unfortunately, CPU clock frequencies have been in a holding pattern for several years, thanks to the physical limitations of semiconductor transistors.

Today, a top bin x86 processor will flirt with 3.5 GHz. That’s plenty fast if you can scale your application to take advantage of more cores and processors — the way most of HPC works. In that case, you’re able to crank up execution speed by throwing more servers at the problem. HFT applications, though, require fast single-threaded performance.

According to John Lee, vice president of Appro’s Advanced Technology Solutions Group, a small number of financial services customers convinced the HPC vendor to build overclocked x86 servers designed specifically for the high frequency trading domain. Although these customers are in line to get the first hardware when it hits the streets later this year, Lee thinks all the HFT players will want to take a hard look at the new HF1. “It’s a product they can’t buy right now because there is nobody addressing the special needs these guys have,” he says.

The server is a dual-socket box using Intel Xeon X5680 processors overclocked to frequencies up to 4.4 GHz. That’s nearly a full gigahertz quicker than the top bin 3.46 GHz Xeon X5677 available today, and even outruns the fastest speeds supported by Intel’s turbo boost technology. To keep the overclocked CPUs cool and collected, Appro has plumbed the server with a closed-loop cooling system (pump, coolant reservoir, pipes and radiator) to draw the extra heat away from the over-achieving chips. “We’re taking the soul of a gaming machine and packaging it in a commercial rackmount server,” explains Lee.

The makes for a rather unconventional HPC machine. All the internal plumbing expands what would have been a 1U server into a 3U box. And because of the overclocking and extra plumbing, a lot more power is required — in the neighborhood of 1 kilowatt. That’s fine for HFT set-ups since speed, not density or power, is the driving consideration.

A bigger concern is the short warranty period. Most Appro servers come with a standard three-year warranty, but for the HF1 that’s reduced to just a single year. More importantly, the processors are only guaranteed for 30 days since the overclocking voids the Intel warranty on their chips. Lee says they are offering a one or two year warranty extension for the HF1, but at an additional premium.

Although Intel is not guaranteeing the overclocked processors, it is cheering Appro on and is certainly keeping an eye on the lucrative HFT market. It’s not too big a stretch to imagine that the chipmaker would want some of the action by offering faster clocks in its mainline Xeons. Whether this would take the form of faster CPUs with fewer cores (maybe just one?), or some exotic technology that allows the frequencies to breeze past 3.5 GHz is unknown. Almost certainly, the presence of 4-plus GHz Xeons would entice Tier 1 OEMs and others to build purpose-built HFT boxes. But at least for the time being, Appro is alone in the fast lane.

Not without some risk, though. The up-front cost of an HF1 puts these servers in a class by themselves, price-wise. Given that these systems have to be hand-tuned to balance the clocking on the various motherboard components, the premium is quite steep.

Although Appro is not publicizing its pricing, Lee implied the HF1 would cost several times that of a standard $4,000 or $5,000 HPC server. Ordered in quantity, Appro would no doubt offer better deals, but even the largest deployments would be just a few hundred units, so this solution is only for the DEEP-pocketed.

The five-figure pricing and short warranty eliminates this server from consideration for the typical HPC user. A DOE lab, for example, would love to have the faster CPUs for its supercomputers, but the per unit costs are too high for a multi-thousand node machine. And in any case, by the time a lab ran a system through acceptance testing, the processors’ warranty would already have expired.

Unlike the other HPC domains, in high frequency trading, server costs are a relatively small piece of the operation, especially considering the money that can be generated from these machines. A 2009 report by the TABB Group estimated that HFT generated about $21 billion in profits in 2008 (that’s profit, not revenue). If a single server can slip in, say, twice as many trades in the same timeframe as its slower competition, the ROI is quite rapid. From conversations Lee has had with HFT customers, they’re confident the cost of these machines can be recouped within the first few months of operation. According to him, when the subject of server cost comes up, “nobody bats an eye.”

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!

DNA Data Storage Innovation Reduces Write Times, Boosts Density

September 20, 2019

Storing digital data inside of DNA has been an idea since the 1960s, and recent developments have addressed some of the obstacles facing its scaled implementation. Now, researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya have crossed another major milestone by using new techniques to store 10 petabytes of data in one gram of DNA. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

IBM Opens Quantum Computing Center; Announces 53-Qubit Machine

September 19, 2019

Gauging progress in quantum computing is a tricky thing. IBM yesterday announced the opening of the IBM Quantum Computing Center in New York, with five 20-qubit systems up and running and a 53-qubit system expected to go Read more…

By John Russell

Kubernetes, Containers and HPC

September 19, 2019

Software containers and Kubernetes are important tools for building, deploying, running and managing modern enterprise applications at scale and delivering enterprise software faster and more reliably to the end user — while using resources more efficiently and reducing costs. Read more…

By Daniel Gruber,Burak Yenier and Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud

AWS Solution Channel

A Guide to Discovering the Best AWS Instances and Configurations for Your HPC Workload

The flexibility and heterogeneity of HPC cloud services provide a welcome contrast to the constraints of on-premises HPC. Every HPC configuration is potentially accessible to any given workload in a well-resourced cloud HPC deployment, with vast scalability to spin up as much compute as that workload demands in any given moment. Read more…

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Intel FPGAs: More Than Just an Accelerator Card

FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) acceleration cards are not new, as they’ve been commercially available since 1984. Typically, the emphasis around FPGAs has centered on the fact that they’re programmable accelerators, and that they can truly offer workload specific hardware acceleration solutions without requiring custom silicon. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Rumors of My Death Are Still Exaggerated: The Mainframe

[Connect with Spectrum users and learn new skills in the IBM Spectrum LSF User Community.]

As of 2017, 92 of the world’s top 100 banks used mainframes. Read more…

The European Processor Initiative’s Ambitious Vision of the Future

September 19, 2019

With the EuroHPC program well underway, much of the European Union’s ambition to be a leader in the exascale era rests with the European Processor Initiative (EPI). The project – which has a budget of roughly €160 Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

IBM Opens Quantum Computing Center; Announces 53-Qubit Machine

September 19, 2019

Gauging progress in quantum computing is a tricky thing. IBM yesterday announced the opening of the IBM Quantum Computing Center in New York, with five 20-qubit Read more…

By John Russell

Kubernetes, Containers and HPC

September 19, 2019

Software containers and Kubernetes are important tools for building, deploying, running and managing modern enterprise applications at scale and delivering enterprise software faster and more reliably to the end user — while using resources more efficiently and reducing costs. Read more…

By Daniel Gruber,Burak Yenier and Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud

The European Processor Initiative’s Ambitious Vision of the Future

September 19, 2019

With the EuroHPC program well underway, much of the European Union’s ambition to be a leader in the exascale era rests with the European Processor Initiative Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

When in Rome: AMD Announces New Epyc CPU for HPC, Server and Cloud Wins

September 18, 2019

Where else but Rome could AMD hold the official Europe launch party for its second generation of Epyc microprocessors, codenamed Rome. Today, AMD did just that announcing key server wins, important cloud provider wins... Read more…

By John Russell

Dell’s AMD-Powered Server Line Targets High-End Jobs

September 17, 2019

Dell Technologies rolled out five new servers this week based on AMD’s latest Epyc processor that are geared toward data-driven workloads running on increasin Read more…

By George Leopold

Cerebras to Supply DOE with Wafer-Scale AI Supercomputing Technology

September 17, 2019

Cerebras Systems, which debuted its wafer-scale AI silicon at Hot Chips last month, has entered into a multi-year partnership with Argonne National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as part of a larger collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IDAS: ‘Automagic’ HPC With Training Wheels

September 12, 2019

High-performance computing (HPC) for research is notorious for having steep barriers to entry. For this reason, high-tech disciplines were early adopters, have Read more…

By Elizabeth Leake

Univa Brings Cloud Automation to Slurm Users with Navops Launch 2.0

September 11, 2019

Univa, the company behind Grid Engine, announced today its HPC cloud-automation platform NavOps Launch will support the popular open-source workload scheduler Slurm. With the release of NavOps Launch 2.0, “Slurm users will have access to the same cloud automation capabilities... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

High Performance (Potato) Chips

May 5, 2006

In this article, we focus on how Procter & Gamble is using high performance computing to create some common, everyday supermarket products. Tom Lange, a 27-year veteran of the company, tells us how P&G models products, processes and production systems for the betterment of consumer package goods. Read more…

By Michael Feldman

Supercomputer-Powered AI Tackles a Key Fusion Energy Challenge

August 7, 2019

Fusion energy is the Holy Grail of the energy world: low-radioactivity, low-waste, zero-carbon, high-output nuclear power that can run on hydrogen or lithium. T Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AMD Verifies Its Largest 7nm Chip Design in Ten Hours

June 5, 2019

AMD announced last week that its engineers had successfully executed the first physical verification of its largest 7nm chip design – in just ten hours. The AMD Radeon Instinct Vega20 – which boasts 13.2 billion transistors – was tested using a TSMC-certified Calibre nmDRC software platform from Mentor. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

TSMC and Samsung Moving to 5nm; Whither Moore’s Law?

June 12, 2019

With reports that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TMSC) and Samsung are moving quickly to 5nm manufacturing, it’s a good time to again ponder whither goes the venerable Moore’s law. Shrinking feature size has of course been the primary hallmark of achieving Moore’s law... Read more…

By John Russell

DARPA Looks to Propel Parallelism

September 4, 2019

As Moore’s law runs out of steam, new programming approaches are being pursued with the goal of greater hardware performance with less coding. The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency is launching a new programming effort aimed at leveraging the benefits of massive distributed parallelism with less sweat. Read more…

By George Leopold

Cray Wins NNSA-Livermore ‘El Capitan’ Exascale Contract

August 13, 2019

Cray has won the bid to build the first exascale supercomputer for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Lawrence Livermore National Laborator Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Launches Epyc Rome, First 7nm CPU

August 8, 2019

From a gala event at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco yesterday (Aug. 7), AMD launched its second-generation Epyc Rome x86 chips, based on its 7nm proce Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Ayar Labs to Demo Photonics Chiplet in FPGA Package at Hot Chips

August 19, 2019

Silicon startup Ayar Labs continues to gain momentum with its DARPA-backed optical chiplet technology that puts advanced electronics and optics on the same chip Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

ISC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
GOOGLE
GOOGLE
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL

Nvidia Embraces Arm, Declares Intent to Accelerate All CPU Architectures

June 17, 2019

As the Top500 list was being announced at ISC in Frankfurt today with an upgraded petascale Arm supercomputer in the top third of the list, Nvidia announced its Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Top500 Purely Petaflops; US Maintains Performance Lead

June 17, 2019

With the kick-off of the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) in Frankfurt this morning, the 53rd Top500 list made its debut, and this one's for petafl Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Hardware That Powered the Black Hole Image

June 24, 2019

Two months ago, the first-ever image of a black hole took the internet by storm. A team of scientists took years to produce and verify the striking image – an Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Chinese Company Sugon Placed on US ‘Entity List’ After Strong Showing at International Supercomputing Conference

June 26, 2019

After more than a decade of advancing its supercomputing prowess, operating the world’s most powerful supercomputer from June 2013 to June 2018, China is keep Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Qualcomm Invests in RISC-V Startup SiFive

June 7, 2019

Investors are zeroing in on the open standard RISC-V instruction set architecture and the processor intellectual property being developed by a batch of high-flying chip startups. Last fall, Esperanto Technologies announced a $58 million funding round. Read more…

By George Leopold

Intel Confirms Retreat on Omni-Path

August 1, 2019

Intel Corp.’s plans to make a big splash in the network fabric market for linking HPC and other workloads has apparently belly-flopped. The chipmaker confirmed to us the outlines of an earlier report by the website CRN that it has jettisoned plans for a second-generation version of its Omni-Path interconnect... Read more…

By Staff report

Intel Debuts Pohoiki Beach, Its 8M Neuron Neuromorphic Development System

July 17, 2019

Neuromorphic computing has received less fanfare of late than quantum computing whose mystery has captured public attention and which seems to have generated mo Read more…

By John Russell

Rise of NIH’s Biowulf Mirrors the Rise of Computational Biology

July 29, 2019

The story of NIH’s supercomputer Biowulf is fascinating, important, and in many ways representative of the transformation of life sciences and biomedical res Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This