No More Excuses: Green Blades Let You Do More with Less

From a cost and ROI perspective the Appro GreenBlade™ System surpasses the traditional 1U rack mounted server.

The introduction of Intel Nehalem processor is perhaps one of the most anticipated HPC events in recent history. It represents a huge change in the micro-architecture that will influence the performance and power envelope for years to come. But, this is not the only thing you should be excited about. The exciting news is you don’t need to deploy the new Intel Nehalem in the same old loud and power hungry 1U servers. New and efficient green blades are the way forward. Appro has announced a new GreenBlade Series of products that have cost parity with 1U servers. However, the advantage does not stop there. With a green design you can expect 20% less power usage over existing 1U systems. Did we mention that this new blade comes with the new Intel® Xeon® Processors? Now you can get excited.

The Intel Xeon Processors 5500 Series (Nehalem)

Unless you have been on extended vacation without an Internet connection, the new Intel Nehalem is here. This is not a refinement of the existing architecture as per the Intel "tic-tock" methodology. The new Intel Xeon Processors 5500 series is a new micro architecture (tock step). The most significant change is a true quad-core design with much improved memory bandwidth. In past Intel designs, all the processor sockets on the motherboard shared the same memory controller. As the core count on the nodes increased, this introduced a possible bottleneck for some applications. The Intel micro-architecture has now placed a memory controller on each processor and added a high speed processor-to-processor interface (12.8 GB/s unidirectional) called QuickPath. The result is a 3.5 times improvement in memory bandwidth as measured by the stream benchmark using a similarly clocked Harpertown processor. Intel reports that applications like LS-Dyna and Fluent see improvements of 2.02 and 2.2 times (respectively) over previous generation hardware.

In addition to improved memory performance, Intel has introduced some other enhancements. The New Intel Xeon Processors now include Intel Turbo Boost Technology that improves performance by allowing the operating system to increase core frequencies within the current power envelope. The idea is to increase the clock speed of cores if others are idle while still staying within the thermal specifications. In addition, Intel Intelligent Power Technology allows for individual cores to be powered down when not in use. The power draw for both memory and the I/O controller on idle nodes can be reduced as well, bringing the idle power consumption for the Nehalem to 10 watts.

There are other improvements worth noting. While not used as much in HPC, Intel Hyper-Threading Technology is back allowing more threads than cores to operate at the same time. Memory Capacity is now 144GB and the L3 cache is shared between all cores on each Nehalem processor. There have been other improvements in virtualization technology as well.

No More Excuses

While many 1U solutions deliver the same features set to the customer, blades can vary in design and performance. Choosing the right blade for your type of application and data center is an important decision. The following key points are worth considering when looking at blade designs.

Green and Manageable

In some sense, blades have always used a more green design. In terms of energy efficiency, the advantage of blades is the ability to use shared power and cooling. The Appro GreenBlade, shown in Figure One, takes full advantage of these features. Each blade contains a dual socket Nehalem motherboard with 8 cores, up to 48 GB of DDR3 1333MHz memory, and an optional 1TB of internal storage. Ten blades fit in 5U chassis for a total of 80 cores, 480 GB of memory, and 10 TB of storage.

By adopting an improved green design, users can expect a 20% overall reduction in power use over previous 1U solutions. Coupled with the power saving capability of the new Intel micro-architecture, the Appro GreenBlade offers outstanding compute/power efficiency. Power savings are derived from the shared redundant cooling fans and power supplies. The power supplies are high-efficiency (90%+) and configured in a N+1 redundant fashion. Another advantage of bladed systems is the enhanced manageability that 1U solutions cannot offer. Each subrack chassis has a shelf manager that provides power control and staged power-up of all blades. Blades, fans and power supplies can be monitored remotely using standard IPMI/BMC tools.

Figure One: The Appro GreenBlade
Figure One: The Appro GreenBlade

Dense and Reliable

A typical 1U solution can hold one or two motherboards. With a single motherboard solution, only 40 cores can be placed in the same 5U space occupied by the Appro GreenBlade System thus requiring additional rack space (and power) to achieve the same core parity. If a dual motherboard solution is used, then the same density can be achieved but at the cost of sharing a single non-redundant power supply for two motherboards. The loss of a power supply or the need to service one of the motherboards requires both motherboards to be out of service. Because the GreenBlades share redundant power supplies, each blade is hot-swappable and can be serviced without affecting any other blade. As shown in Figure Two, eight sub-rack chassis can be housed in a standard 42 rack for a total of 640 cores.

Appro GreenBlade System (Building Block Solution). Holds up to 10 Blades

Cluster Integrated Solution based on GreenBlade System. Holds 8 GreenBlade Systems in a 42U Rack

Appro HyperGreen Clusters for Mid- to Large
HPC Data Centers Scaling up to 1000 nodes

Figure Two: Scalable Cluster Building Block using the Appro GreenBlade System.

High Performance Blades

Not all blades are created equal. In the HPC sector, blades need to be both green and provide high performance. The Appro GreenBlade System provides an extremely flexible and manageable way to create high-density computing. It is designed to scale, with little effort or re-configuration.

The Appro HyperGreen Cluster solution is based on the GreenBlade system building block solution that supports up to 10 dual socket blades per subrack allowing 8 subracks in one standard rack cabinet with 2 rack unit spaces left for switches; working through the cores-per-rack arithmetic, (8x2x10x4) yields 80 blades with 640 processing cores per 42U rack cabinet, twice the density that you can get with 1U servers.

The Appro HyperGreen cluster solution offers a variety of interconnect options to include only standard 1U Ethernet or 1U Infiniband (IB) switches. This is accomplished by pre-allocating space in each rack cabinet for two standard 24-port Infiniband or Ethernet switches. This offers flexibility for customers who may choose to deploy either an Ethernet or IB-based HPC cluster. Appro also offers variations in the Infiniband interconnect with ConnectX DDR single IB, DDR dual IB or QDR single IB configurations. The Appro GreenBlade is unique in this category; each blade can provide one or two QDR InfiniBand ports on the motherboard and thus do not require any additional PCIe HCAs to be added to the blade. All these options provide excellent network bandwidth and low latency at an affordable price point to many HPC workloads that require higher performance for their applications.

Still Not Convinced

Let’s do some math. If you are using single or dual core 1U cluster nodes, you may be surprised at how expensive your computing has become. First, consider that with the new Intel Xeon Processors, you can deliver the same amount of computing cycles with 2-3 times less hardware; less hardware means less power and cooling and less floor space. By coupling this processing improvement with a more power efficient processor and with the Appro GreenBlade design, you can get an extra savings of 20% per blade. In almost all situations, adopting a blade solution over the standard 1U server can provide a rapid ROI through reduced operating costs and increased computing throughput. Finally, since the cost of the Appro GreenBlade is on parity with 1U servers, there is no reason not to enjoy all the extra features and reduced operating costs.

In summary, the Appro GreenBlade System building block solution offers customers performance, density and energy efficiency at a competitive price. The Appro GreenBlade System provides flexibility with a choice of servers, networking, interconnects and an open commercially supported cluster management solution that can be easily configured and pre-integrated as a part of a complete package to include HPC professional services and support. All that at a 1U price point. The blade has arrived.

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