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!

Russian and American Scientists Achieve 50% Increase in Data Transmission Speed

September 20, 2018

As high-performance computing becomes increasingly data-intensive and the demand for shorter turnaround times grows, data transfer speed becomes an ever more important bottleneck. Now, in an article published in IEEE Tra Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

IBM to Brand Rescale’s HPC-in-Cloud Platform

September 20, 2018

HPC (or big compute)-in-the-cloud platform provider Rescale has formalized the work it’s been doing in partnership with public cloud vendors by announcing its Powered by Rescale program – with IBM as its first named Read more…

By Doug Black

Democratization of HPC Part 1: Simulation Sheds Light on Building Dispute

September 20, 2018

This is the first of three articles demonstrating the growing acceptance of High Performance Computing especially in new user communities and application areas. Major reasons for this trend are the ongoing improvements i Read more…

By Wolfgang Gentzsch

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Introducing the First Integrated System Management Software for HPC Clusters from HPE

How do you manage your complex, growing cluster environments? Answer that big challenge with the new HPC cluster management solution: HPE Performance Cluster Manager. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Clouds Over the Ocean – a Healthcare Perspective

Advances in precision medicine, genomics, and imaging; the widespread adoption of electronic health records; and the proliferation of medical Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile devices are resulting in an explosion of structured and unstructured healthcare-related data. Read more…

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 Gordon Bell Prize used Summit in their work. That’s impres 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

House Passes $1.275B National Quantum Initiative

September 17, 2018

Last Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA) intended to accelerate quantum computing research and developm Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Accelerates AI Inference in the Datacenter with T4 GPU

September 14, 2018

Nvidia is upping its game for AI inference in the datacenter with a new platform consisting of an inference accelerator chip--the new Turing-based Tesla T4 GPU- Read more…

By George Leopold

DeepSense Combines HPC and AI to Bolster Canada’s Ocean Economy

September 13, 2018

We often hear scientists say that we know less than 10 percent of the life of the oceans. This week, IBM and a group of Canadian industry and government partner Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Rigetti (and Others) Pursuit of Quantum Advantage

September 11, 2018

Remember ‘quantum supremacy’, the much-touted but little-loved idea that the age of quantum computing would be signaled when quantum computers could tackle Read more…

By John Russell

How FPGAs Accelerate Financial Services Workloads

September 11, 2018

While FSI companies are unlikely, for competitive reasons, to disclose their FPGA strategies, James Reinders offers insights into the case for FPGAs as accelerators for FSI by discussing performance, power, size, latency, jitter and inline processing. Read more…

By James Reinders

Update from Gregory Kurtzer on Singularity’s Push into FS and the Enterprise

September 11, 2018

Container technology is hardly new but it has undergone rapid evolution in the HPC space in recent years to accommodate traditional science workloads and HPC systems requirements. While Docker containers continue to dominate in the enterprise, other variants are becoming important and one alternative with distinctly HPC roots – Singularity – is making an enterprise push targeting advanced scale workload inclusive of HPC. Read more…

By John Russell

At HPC on Wall Street: AI-as-a-Service Accelerates AI Journeys

September 10, 2018

AIaaS – artificial intelligence-as-a-service – is the technology discipline that eases enterprise entry into the mysteries of the AI journey while lowering Read more…

By Doug Black

TACC Wins Next NSF-funded Major Supercomputer

July 30, 2018

The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) has won the next NSF-funded big supercomputer beating out rivals including the National Center for Supercomputing Ap Read more…

By John Russell

IBM at Hot Chips: What’s Next for Power

August 23, 2018

With processor, memory and networking technologies all racing to fill in for an ailing Moore’s law, the era of the heterogeneous datacenter is well underway, Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Requiem for a Phi: Knights Landing Discontinued

July 25, 2018

On Monday, Intel made public its end of life strategy for the Knights Landing "KNL" Phi product set. The announcement makes official what has already been wide Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CERN Project Sees Orders-of-Magnitude Speedup with AI Approach

August 14, 2018

An award-winning effort at CERN has demonstrated potential to significantly change how the physics based modeling and simulation communities view machine learni Read more…

By Rob Farber

ORNL Summit Supercomputer Is Officially Here

June 8, 2018

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) together with IBM and Nvidia celebrated the official unveiling of the Department of Energy (DOE) Summit supercomputer toda Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

New Deep Learning Algorithm Solves Rubik’s Cube

July 25, 2018

Solving (and attempting to solve) Rubik’s Cube has delighted millions of puzzle lovers since 1974 when the cube was invented by Hungarian sculptor and archite Read more…

By John Russell

AMD’s EPYC Road to Redemption in Six Slides

June 21, 2018

A year ago AMD returned to the server market with its EPYC processor line. The earth didn’t tremble but folks took notice. People remember the Opteron fondly Read more…

By John Russell

House Passes $1.275B National Quantum Initiative

September 17, 2018

Last Thursday the U.S. House of Representatives passed the National Quantum Initiative Act (NQIA) intended to accelerate quantum computing research and developm Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

SC17 Booth Video Tours Playlist

Altair @ SC17

Altair

AMD @ SC17

AMD

ASRock Rack @ SC17

ASRock Rack

CEJN @ SC17

CEJN

DDN Storage @ SC17

DDN Storage

Huawei @ SC17

Huawei

IBM @ SC17

IBM

IBM Power Systems @ SC17

IBM Power Systems

Intel @ SC17

Intel

Lenovo @ SC17

Lenovo

Mellanox Technologies @ SC17

Mellanox Technologies

Microsoft @ SC17

Microsoft

Penguin Computing @ SC17

Penguin Computing

Pure Storage @ SC17

Pure Storage

Supericro @ SC17

Supericro

Tyan @ SC17

Tyan

Univa @ SC17

Univa

Sandia to Take Delivery of World’s Largest Arm System

June 18, 2018

While the enterprise remains circumspect on prospects for Arm servers in the datacenter, the leadership HPC community is taking a bolder, brighter view of the x86 server CPU alternative. Amongst current and planned Arm HPC installations – i.e., the innovative Mont-Blanc project, led by Bull/Atos, the 'Isambard’ Cray XC50 going into the University of Bristol, and commitments from both Japan and France among others -- HPE is announcing that it will be supply the United States National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) with a 2.3 petaflops peak Arm-based system, named Astra. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

MLPerf – Will New Machine Learning Benchmark Help Propel AI Forward?

May 2, 2018

Let the AI benchmarking wars begin. Today, a diverse group from academia and industry – Google, Baidu, Intel, AMD, Harvard, and Stanford among them – releas Read more…

By John Russell

D-Wave Breaks New Ground in Quantum Simulation

July 16, 2018

Last Friday D-Wave scientists and colleagues published work in Science which they say represents the first fulfillment of Richard Feynman’s 1982 notion that Read more…

By John Russell

Intel Pledges First Commercial Nervana Product ‘Spring Crest’ in 2019

May 24, 2018

At its AI developer conference in San Francisco yesterday, Intel embraced a holistic approach to AI and showed off a broad AI portfolio that includes Xeon processors, Movidius technologies, FPGAs and Intel’s Nervana Neural Network Processors (NNPs), based on the technology it acquired in 2016. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

TACC’s ‘Frontera’ Supercomputer Expands Horizon for Extreme-Scale Science

August 29, 2018

The National Science Foundation and the Texas Advanced Computing Center announced today that a new system, called Frontera, will overtake Stampede 2 as the fast Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Announces Cooper Lake, Advances AI Strategy

August 9, 2018

Intel's chief datacenter exec Navin Shenoy kicked off the company's Data-Centric Innovation Summit Wednesday, the day-long program devoted to Intel's datacenter Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

GPUs Power Five of World’s Top Seven Supercomputers

June 25, 2018

The top 10 echelon of the newly minted Top500 list boasts three powerful new systems with one common engine: the Nvidia Volta V100 general-purpose graphics proc Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

The Machine Learning Hype Cycle and HPC

June 14, 2018

Like many other HPC professionals I’m following the hype cycle around machine learning/deep learning with interest. I subscribe to the view that we’re probably approaching the ‘peak of inflated expectation’ but not quite yet starting the descent into the ‘trough of disillusionment. This still raises the probability that... Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

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