Sun Cofounder Evangelizes Liquid Blade Server

By Michael Feldman

May 4, 2011

What does a Sun Microsystems cofounder do with his spare time? Well, if you’re Scott McNealy, you spend some if it lending your expertise to promising tech vendors that are looking to break into the IT big leagues. One such company that he has taken a personal interest in is Hardcore Computer, which recently introduced a line of servers that use liquid submersion technology. HPCwire spoke with McNealy to get his take on the technology and to ask him why he thinks the company deserves the spotlight.

McNealy signed on as a non-paid advisor and consultant with Hardcore in January at the behest of longtime friend and former Stanford classmate Doug Burgum. Burgum’s venture firm, Kilbourne Group, has invested in Hardcore, a Rochester, Minnesota-based computer maker that specializes in high performance gear based on the company’s patented liquid submersion cooling technology.

“This is one of the few companies innovating on top of the Intel architecture — rather than just strapping a power supply on and porting Linux,” McNealy told HPCwire.

Hardcore makes a range of liquid-cooled offerings, including desktops, workstations, and servers. Its latest offering is the “Liquid Blade,” a server line the company announced in May 2010 and launched in November at the Supercomputing Conference in New Orleans (SC10). The new blade is more or less a standard dual-socket x86-based blade using Intel Xeon 5500 and 5600 Xeon parts. It sports eight DDR3 memory slots per CPU, six SATA slots for storage, and a PCIe x16 slot for a GPU card or other external device.

Liquid Blade’s secret sauce — and in this case it literally is a sauce — is Hardcore’s patented liquid submersion technology. The company uses a proprietary dielectric fluid, called Core Coolant, to entirely submerge the blades within a specially-built 5U rack-mounted chassis. The coolant is inert, biodegradable, and most importantly non-conductive, so all of the electrical components inside the server are protected.

As with any liquid coolant, the idea is to draw off the excess heat much more efficiently than an air-cooled setup and ensure all the server components are keep comfortably cool even under maximum load. According to the company literature, the Core Coolant has 1,350 times the cooling capacity of air. Since the coolant is so effective at heat dissipation and the internal fans have been dispensed with, the server components can be packed rather densely. In this case the 5U Hardcore chassis can house up to seven of the dual-socket blades.

The company launched its liquid-dipped server at SC10 last November to get the attention of the HPC community, but the offering is suitable for any installation where the datacenter is constrained by power and space. Besides HPC centers, these include DoD facilities, telco firms, and Internet service providers. “You have to look at the users who think at scale and have a huge electric bill,” explains McNealy.

The datacenter cooling problem is well-known, of course. As servers get packed with hotter and faster chips and datacenters scale up to meet growing demand, getting enough power and space has become increasingly challenging. Datacenter cooling has traditionally relied on air conditioning, but air makes for a poor heat exchange medium, and it’s hard to direct it where it’s most needed. “Air goes everywhere but where you want it to,” laughs McNealy. Cooling a hot server, he says is “like trying to blow a candle out from the other side of the room.”

Because of the density of the Hardcore solution, you need about 50 percent fewer racks to deliver the same compute. And since the blades essentially never overheat, one can expect better reliability and longevity. As any datacenter administrator knows, heat is a major cause of server mortality, especially in facilities filled to capacity.

But the really big savings is on the power side. Since cooling and the associated equipment take up such a large chunk of a datacenter energy budget, any effort to reduce these costs tends to pay for itself in just a few years. An independent study found that a Liquid Blade setup could reduce datacenter cooling costs by up to 80 percent and operating costs by up to 25 percent.

Hardcore isn’t alone in the liquid submersion biz. Other companies, most notably Austin-based Green Revolution, are providing these types of products. In the case of Green Revolution, they offer a general-purpose solution for all sorts of hardware — rack servers, blades, and network switches. The company will strip down the gear to its essentials and immerse the components in a specially-built 42U enclosure filled with an inert mineral oil.

But since Hardcore is dunking its own servers, it has the option to build high performance gear that would be impractical to run in an air-cooled environment. As McNealy points out, the efficient liquid cooling is a natural for the highest bin x86 chips running the fastest clocks. For example, the company could stuff Intel’s latest 4.4 GHz Xeon 5600 processors into its blades, and offer a special-purpose product for high frequency traders (as Appro has done, sans immersive liquid cooling, with its HF1 servers). Hardcore has never talked about such a setup for HFT, but it does tout the servers outfitted with high wattage graphics cards for GPGPU type computation. Applications using such capabilities include medical imaging, CGI rendering, engineering simulation and modeling and web-based gaming.

One the things McNealy has been working with the Hardcore people on is getting an apples-to-apples comparison of their liquid cooled gear versus conventional air-cooled servers. To do this, he says, you have come up with a higher level analysis that takes into account the service cost over the entire datacenter.

According to the company, the cost of a Liquid Blade setup is on par with a comparably equipped air-cooled product since all the fans are eliminated and the chassis design is simpler. If a user opted for Liquid Blade when it came time to upgrade their servers, they could start to realize energy costs savings immediately. But the big savings occur when a datacenter can be built from scratch with liquid submersion in mind.

In that case, the datacenter can dispense with a lot of the CRAC units, use 12-foot ceilings instead of 16-foot ones (no overhead air ductwork is needed), and use less UPS units thanks to reduced power requirements. The only extra cost comes with the chilled water to oil heat exchangers used to draw the heat from the chassis coolant. Also, since you can fit more servers into the same space, the datacenter floor space can be reduced by about 30 percent for a given compute capacity.

So why isn’t everyone flocking to liquid submersion? Customer inertia, says McNealy. According to him, he’s spent most of his career knowing the right thing to do and trying to get others to realize it themselves.

With Hardcore, the challenge is that most organizations are already set up with their existing air-cooled facilities, so a lot of the cost incentives for the big switch aren’t there. He thinks if a large Internet service provider bought into this technology for a new datacenter, the business could quickly take off. For McNealy’s Sun, that tipping point was in the late 80s when Computervision made a big deal to go with his company’s Unix-based workstations. Hardcore, no doubt would love to repeat history, this time with the likes of Google, Amazon, or Facebook.

“Their biggest challenges is the barrier to exit from the old strategy, not the barrier to entry to the new one,” says McNealy.

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!

Machine Learning at HPC User Forum: Drilling into Specific Use Cases

September 22, 2017

The 66th HPC User Forum held September 5-7, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the elegant and historic Pfister Hotel, highlighting the 1893 Victorian décor and art of “The Grand Hotel Of The West,” contrasted nicely with Read more…

By Arno Kolster

Google Cloud Makes Good on Promise to Add Nvidia P100 GPUs

September 21, 2017

Google has taken down the notice on its cloud platform website that says Nvidia Tesla P100s are “coming soon.” That's because the search giant has announced the beta launch of the high-end P100 Nvidia Tesla GPUs on t Read more…

By George Leopold

Cray Wins $48M Supercomputer Contract from KISTI

September 21, 2017

It was a good day for Cray which won a $48 million contract from the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Information (KISTI) for a 128-rack CS500 cluster supercomputer. The new system, equipped with Intel Xeon Scal Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Prepares Customers for Success with the HPC Software Portfolio

High performance computing (HPC) software is key to harnessing the full power of HPC environments. Development and management tools enable IT departments to streamline installation and maintenance of their systems as well as create, optimize, and run their HPC applications. Read more…

Adolfy Hoisie to Lead Brookhaven’s Computing for National Security Effort

September 21, 2017

Brookhaven National Laboratory announced today that Adolfy Hoisie will chair its newly formed Computing for National Security department, which is part of Brookhaven’s new Computational Science Initiative (CSI). Read more…

By John Russell

Machine Learning at HPC User Forum: Drilling into Specific Use Cases

September 22, 2017

The 66th HPC User Forum held September 5-7, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the elegant and historic Pfister Hotel, highlighting the 1893 Victorian décor and art o Read more…

By Arno Kolster

Stanford University and UberCloud Achieve Breakthrough in Living Heart Simulations

September 21, 2017

Cardiac arrhythmia can be an undesirable and potentially lethal side effect of drugs. During this condition, the electrical activity of the heart turns chaotic, Read more…

By Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud, and Francisco Sahli, Stanford University

PNNL’s Center for Advanced Tech Evaluation Seeks Wider HPC Community Ties

September 21, 2017

Two years ago the Department of Energy established the Center for Advanced Technology Evaluation (CENATE) at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). CENAT Read more…

By John Russell

Exascale Computing Project Names Doug Kothe as Director

September 20, 2017

The Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) has named Doug Kothe as its new director effective October 1. He replaces Paul Messina, who is stepping down after two years to return to Argonne National Laboratory. Kothe is a 32-year veteran of DOE’s National Laboratory System. Read more…

Takeaways from the Milwaukee HPC User Forum

September 19, 2017

Milwaukee’s elegant Pfister Hotel hosted approximately 100 attendees for the 66th HPC User Forum (September 5-7, 2017). In the original home city of Pabst Blu Read more…

By Merle Giles

Kathy Yelick Charts the Promise and Progress of Exascale Science

September 15, 2017

On Friday, Sept. 8, Kathy Yelick of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the keynote address on “Breakthrough Science at the Exascale” at the ACM Europe Conference in Barcelona. In conjunction with her presentation, Yelick agreed to a short Q&A discussion with HPCwire. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Pledges Another $300 Million for Post-Moore’s Readiness

September 14, 2017

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a giant funding effort to ensure the United States can sustain the pace of electronic innovation vital to both a flourishing economy and a secure military. Under the banner of the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI), some $500-$800 million will be invested in post-Moore’s Law technologies. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Breaks Ground for Complex Quantum Chemistry

September 14, 2017

IBM has reported the use of a novel algorithm to simulate BeH2 (beryllium-hydride) on a quantum computer. This is the largest molecule so far simulated on a quantum computer. The technique, which used six qubits of a seven-qubit system, is an important step forward and may suggest an approach to simulating ever larger molecules. Read more…

By John Russell

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

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

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

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

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

Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD Read more…

By John Russell

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

Top500 Results: Latest List Trends and What’s in Store

June 19, 2017

Greetings from Frankfurt and the 2017 International Supercomputing Conference where the latest Top500 list has just been revealed. Although there were no major Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

IBM Clears Path to 5nm with Silicon Nanosheets

June 5, 2017

Two years since announcing the industry’s first 7nm node test chip, IBM and its research alliance partners GlobalFoundries and Samsung have developed a proces 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

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in 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

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

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

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

GlobalFoundries: 7nm Chips Coming in 2018, EUV in 2019

June 13, 2017

GlobalFoundries has formally announced that its 7nm technology is ready for customer engagement with product tape outs expected for the first half of 2018. The Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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