SGI Gets Its Mojo Working for Supercomputing Conference

By Michael Feldman

November 15, 2010

SGI has made good on its promise to create a petaflop-in-a-cabinet supercomputer that can scale up to tens and even hundreds of cabinets. Developed under the code name “Project Mojo,” the company has dubbed the new product Prism XL. SGI will be showcasing the system this week in their exhibit booth at the Supercomputing Conference in New Orleans.

Not surprisingly, the Prism system relies on accelerator technology to deliver so much computational brawn. Specifically, SGI is supporting configurations with NVIDIA Tesla GPUs, AMD/ATI GPUs, and Tilera processors. The central idea was to create an open and scalable platform that exploited all the advantages of accelerator technology, namely lower cost, better energy efficiency, and a smaller footprint. According to Bill Mannel, SGI’s VP of product marketing, what they’ve achieved with Prism is a system that costs about 25 percent less than a comparable x86-based supercomputer, and in just one-tenth the floor space.

Computational density was a central goal of Project Mojo. “Around this time last year, a set of SGI executives, including myself, sat in a room in Austin Texas and asked ‘How can we put a petaflop in a single cabinet?'” explains Mannel. “And that was how the Project Mojo product got started.”

The design went through a number of iterations. The original focus was on ATI GPUs since, at least at the time, they offered the most performant processors. (Arguably they still do; the top-end ATI Radeon 5970 chip delivers 4.64 single precision teraflops or 928 double precision gigaflops.) Mannel says that customer feedback drove them to a more general-purpose design that could accommodate virtually any accelerator that was PCIe-friendly.

The first Prism systems available in December can be ordered with NVIDIA Tesla M2050 or M2070 modules, AMD FireStream 9370 (“Osprey”) cards, or 64-core Tilera processor. In January, SGI intends to add support for the AMD FireStream 9350 (“Kestrel”). Mannel says SGI is also considering offering the aforementioned Radeon HD 5970 as an option at some point. Presumably Prism could also be equipped with Intel’s upcoming Many Integrated Core (MIC) “Knights Corner” accelerator further down the road. SGI wouldn’t commit to a future MIC offering, other than to say that they are “giving it serious consideration.”

The Prism design centers around maximizing the number of PCIe interfaces, and thus the number of accelerator cards, that can be packed into a standard rack. Each of the slots are PCIe Gen 2 x16 interfaces, so every accelerator can enjoy full I/O bandwidth to the motherboard. The slot can draw up to 300 watts, which is designed to accommodate all current accelerator cards — the current crop of GPGPUs top out at about 250 watts — as well as all future ones on the major vendors’ roadmaps.

The basic component of a Prism system is a “stick,” a modular enclosure that is indeed stick-like — 5.78 inch wide, 3.34 inch high, and 37 inches deep. Each one is powered by a 1050 watt power supply, and despite the density, the whole apparatus is air-cooled. A 42U rack can be outfitted with up to 63 sticks, in a 3-by-21 honeycomb pattern. The sticks are very much plug and play; you can actually take one out of a rack and plug it into a wall socket in a lab or office should you need to do some local development work.

Inside each stick are two of what SGI calls “slices”, which are essentially nodes. Each slice is comprised of a CPU, one double-wide or two single wide accelerators, and up to two SATA disks. The CPU chosen for this task is an AMD Opteron 4100 “Lisbon” processor, which is housed on a “node board.” SGI opted for the no-frills, lower-power Lisbon processor (basically half a Magny-Cours Opteron) since its principle function is to drive the accelerator, rather than delivering a lot of compute on its own. Up to four DDR3 memory slots, operating at 1333 MHz, are available on the node board.

The default network is GigE, but a separate low profile PCIe slot is available on each slice for an InfiniBand adapter– either single plane or dual plane. This PCIe interface could theoretically be used to stuff another accelerator onto the node (and customers have asked for such an option), but SGI doesn’t currently support that configuration. The company also doesn’t support a 10 GbE option yet, although there’s nothing preventing the customer from plugging in their own adapters. One might wonder why SGI just didn’t slap an InfiniBand or 10 GbE chip down on the node board, but it looks like the rationale was to minimize the common infrastructure as much as possible, and let the customers upscale the configuration as needed via all the PCIe slots.

Since each stick has two slices, a maximally configured one can house 2 CPUs and 4 GPUs. This is how SGI is able to get their peak petaflop in a single cabinet. A cabinet in this case is what SGI calls their M-Rack, an extra-wide double rack with a switch rack in the middle. Since it’s basically two 42U compute racks, you can house 500 single-wide GPUs in it. If those are 2 teraflop AMD FireStream 9350s, you’ve got your petaflop, but just single precision.

Of course, many HPC customers are going to opt for NVIDIA’s Fermi GPUs, since they have up-market features like ECC memory, which is crucial for a lot of heavy-duty computing. In this case though, a cabinet would only yield about 250 single precision teraflops. Of course since the Prism is designed for future accelerators, it won’t be too many years before we’ll be getting a full double precision petaflop in a cabinet.

SGI is targeting Prism at market segments that contain the most enthusiastic early adopters of HPC accelerators, namely oil and gas, media/rendering, education, research, defense/intelligence, and bio/pharma. A number of companies in these areas have already deployed accelerator-based machines — mostly GPU-equipped servers — and these customers would be the ones most likely interested in scaling up to a Prism XL.

The Tilera acceleration option is somewhat of a different animal. In this case, the user is not concerned with FLOPS, since these manycore processors are rather weak in the floating point department.  The intention here is to deliver lots of integer operations in a very power-efficient package. The 64-core Tilera chip delivers 443 billion operations per second, yet consume only about 20 watts. According to Mannel, Tilera deployments are intended to be used in places where FPGA acceleration has been used in the past, for example, in encryption, image and signal processing; network packet inspection, web/content delivery, and media format conversion.

Unlike FPGAs, Tilera processors can be programmed with conventional tools and language frameworks, making application development and maintenance much less complicated. That wouldn’t necessarily rule out a future FPGA accelerator for Prism though. Mannel, in fact, says a few customers are interested in such an option.

With all different accelerator options, SGI is relying mainly on third-party vendors for software support. This includes compilers, drivers, and libraries from NVIDIA, AMD and Tilera for their respective hardware. SGI is also packaging development tools from Allinea, CAPS Enterprise, Portland Group, and Rogue Wave. For job scheduling, they offer Altair PBS Professional, which is conveniently accelerator-aware, while SGI’s own Management Center is used for system management. OS support for the initial offering is Red Hat RHEL 5.5 and CentOS 5.5.

As of this writing, Prism XL pricing was not available, but one would expect to pay some premium compared to vanilla CPU-GPU server-based systems on the market today.  The first Prisms will be available for shipping in December.

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!

Pfizer HPC Engineer Aims to Automate Software Stack Testing

January 17, 2019

Seeking to reign in the tediousness of manual software testing, Pfizer HPC Engineer Shahzeb Siddiqui is developing an open source software tool called buildtest, aimed at automating software stack testing by providing the community with a central repository of tests for common HPC apps and the ability to automate execution of testing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Senegal Prepares to Take Delivery of Atos Supercomputer

January 16, 2019

In just a few months time, Senegal will be operating the second largest HPC system in sub-Saharan Africa. The Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation Mary Teuw Niane made the announcement... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Cloud Platform Extends GPU Instance Options

January 16, 2019

If it's Nvidia GPUs you're after to power your AI/HPC/visualization workload, Google Cloud has them, now claiming "broadest GPU availability." Each of the three big public cloud vendors has by turn touted the latest and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Systems With Intel Omni-Path: Architected for Value and Accessible High-Performance Computing

Today’s high-performance computing (HPC) and artificial intelligence (AI) users value high performing clusters. And the higher the performance that their system can deliver, the better. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Resource Management in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

New challenges demand fresh approaches

Fueled by GPUs, big data, and rapid advances in software, the AI revolution is upon us. Read more…

STAC Floats ML Benchmark for Financial Services Workloads

January 16, 2019

STAC (Securities Technology Analysis Center) recently released an ‘exploratory’ benchmark for machine learning which it hopes will evolve into a firm benchmark or suite of benchmarking tools to compare the performanc Read more…

By John Russell

Google Cloud Platform Extends GPU Instance Options

January 16, 2019

If it's Nvidia GPUs you're after to power your AI/HPC/visualization workload, Google Cloud has them, now claiming "broadest GPU availability." Each of the three Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

STAC Floats ML Benchmark for Financial Services Workloads

January 16, 2019

STAC (Securities Technology Analysis Center) recently released an ‘exploratory’ benchmark for machine learning which it hopes will evolve into a firm benchm Read more…

By John Russell

A Big Data Journey While Seeking to Catalog our Universe

January 16, 2019

It turns out, astronomers have lots of photos of the sky but seek knowledge about what the photos mean. Sound familiar? Big data problems are often characterize Read more…

By James Reinders

Intel Bets Big on 2-Track Quantum Strategy

January 15, 2019

Quantum computing has lived so long in the future it’s taken on a futuristic life of its own, with a Gartner-style hype cycle that includes triggers of innovation, inflated expectations and – though a useful quantum system is still years away – anticipatory troughs of disillusionment. Read more…

By Doug Black

IBM Quantum Update: Q System One Launch, New Collaborators, and QC Center Plans

January 10, 2019

IBM made three significant quantum computing announcements at CES this week. One was introduction of IBM Q System One; it’s really the integration of IBM’s Read more…

By John Russell

IBM’s New Global Weather Forecasting System Runs on GPUs

January 9, 2019

Anyone who has checked a forecast to decide whether or not to pack an umbrella knows that weather prediction can be a mercurial endeavor. It is a Herculean task: the constant modeling of incredibly complex systems to a high degree of accuracy at a local level within very short spans of time. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

The Case Against ‘The Case Against Quantum Computing’

January 9, 2019

It’s not easy to be a physicist. Richard Feynman (basically the Jimi Hendrix of physicists) once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourse Read more…

By Ben Criger

The Deep500 – Researchers Tackle an HPC Benchmark for Deep Learning

January 7, 2019

How do you know if an HPC system, particularly a larger-scale system, is well-suited for deep learning workloads? Today, that’s not an easy question to answer Read more…

By John Russell

Quantum Computing Will Never Work

November 27, 2018

Amid the gush of money and enthusiastic predictions being thrown at quantum computing comes a proposed cold shower in the form of an essay by physicist Mikhail Read more…

By John Russell

Cray Unveils Shasta, Lands NERSC-9 Contract

October 30, 2018

Cray revealed today the details of its next-gen supercomputing architecture, Shasta, selected to be the next flagship system at NERSC. We've known of the code-name "Shasta" since the Argonne slice of the CORAL project was announced in 2015 and although the details of that plan have changed considerably, Cray didn't slow down its timeline for Shasta. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Sets Up for Epyc Epoch

November 16, 2018

It’s been a good two weeks, AMD’s Gary Silcott and Andy Parma told me on the last day of SC18 in Dallas at the restaurant where we met to discuss their show news and recent successes. Heck, it’s been a good year. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Case Against ‘The Case Against Quantum Computing’

January 9, 2019

It’s not easy to be a physicist. Richard Feynman (basically the Jimi Hendrix of physicists) once said: “The first principle is that you must not fool yourse Read more…

By Ben Criger

US Leads Supercomputing with #1, #2 Systems & Petascale Arm

November 12, 2018

The 31st Supercomputing Conference (SC) - commemorating 30 years since the first Supercomputing in 1988 - kicked off in Dallas yesterday, taking over the Kay Ba Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Contract Signed for New Finnish Supercomputer

December 13, 2018

After the official contract signing yesterday, configuration details were made public for the new BullSequana system that the Finnish IT Center for Science (CSC Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia’s Jensen Huang Delivers Vision for the New HPC

November 14, 2018

For nearly two hours on Monday at SC18, Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia, presented his expansive view of the future of HPC (and computing in general) as only he can do. Animated. Backstopped by a stream of data charts, product photos, and even a beautiful image of supernovae... Read more…

By John Russell

HPE No. 1, IBM Surges, in ‘Bucking Bronco’ High Performance Server Market

September 27, 2018

Riding healthy U.S. and global economies, strong demand for AI-capable hardware and other tailwind trends, the high performance computing server market jumped 28 percent in the second quarter 2018 to $3.7 billion, up from $2.9 billion for the same period last year, according to industry analyst firm Hyperion Research. Read more…

By Doug Black

Leading Solution Providers

SC 18 Virtual Booth Video Tour

Advania @ SC18 AMD @ SC18
ASRock Rack @ SC18
DDN Storage @ SC18
HPE @ SC18
IBM @ SC18
Lenovo @ SC18 Mellanox Technologies @ SC18
NVIDIA @ SC18
One Stop Systems @ SC18
Oracle @ SC18 Panasas @ SC18
Supermicro @ SC18 SUSE @ SC18 TYAN @ SC18
Verne Global @ SC18

HPC Reflections and (Mostly Hopeful) Predictions

December 19, 2018

So much ‘spaghetti’ gets tossed on walls by the technology community (vendors and researchers) to see what sticks that it is often difficult to peer through Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Confirms 48-Core Cascade Lake-AP for 2019

November 4, 2018

As part of the run-up to SC18, taking place in Dallas next week (Nov. 11-16), Intel is doling out info on its next-gen Cascade Lake family of Xeon processors, specifically the “Advanced Processor” version (Cascade Lake-AP), architected for high-performance computing, artificial intelligence and infrastructure-as-a-service workloads. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Germany Celebrates Launch of Two Fastest Supercomputers

September 26, 2018

The new high-performance computer SuperMUC-NG at the Leibniz Supercomputing Center (LRZ) in Garching is the fastest computer in Germany and one of the fastest i Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Microsoft to Buy Mellanox?

December 20, 2018

Networking equipment powerhouse Mellanox could be an acquisition target by Microsoft, according to a published report in an Israeli financial publication. Microsoft has reportedly gone so far as to engage Goldman Sachs to handle negotiations with Mellanox. Read more…

By Doug Black

Houston to Field Massive, ‘Geophysically Configured’ Cloud Supercomputer

October 11, 2018

Based on some news stories out today, one might get the impression that the next system to crack number one on the Top500 would be an industrial oil and gas mon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Deep500 – Researchers Tackle an HPC Benchmark for Deep Learning

January 7, 2019

How do you know if an HPC system, particularly a larger-scale system, is well-suited for deep learning workloads? Today, that’s not an easy question to answer Read more…

By John Russell

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Quantum Update: Q System One Launch, New Collaborators, and QC Center Plans

January 10, 2019

IBM made three significant quantum computing announcements at CES this week. One was introduction of IBM Q System One; it’s really the integration of IBM’s 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