Blades for Buffalo

As the battle of the blade vendors heats up, SUNY Buffalo implements blade-based IBM supercomputer

March 26, 2004

3 Min Read
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Another grid has been glimpsed... in Buffalo. The State University of New York (SUNY) branch there is wiring up a massive grid of blade servers for a "Bioinformatics" project.

The school's Center for Excellence in Bioinformatics has built a supercomputer that boasts a peak performance of more than 1.32 teraflops. It's using a cluster of blade servers to do so. It is using blade servers to drive down the cost of its supercomputing and to support research into diseases such as cancer, Alzheimers, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis.

A cluster of 266 IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) BladeCenter HS20 systems is running Red Hat Linux. Each of these uses two 2.8GHz Intel Xeon processors with 1.0 GB of memory.

“It’s a much more efficient use of power, so the TCO [total cost of ownership] is lower," says Dr Jeffrey Skolnik, the Center’s director. "I would expect it to be 30 percent to 40 percent less in the cost of electricity.”

The Center already has a cluster of Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL) servers and EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) storage systems, although the new supercomputer is expected to deliver significant savings when it goes live next month.Skolnik also predicts that the new supercomputer will be more than three times faster than the Center’s current cluster.

Blade servers, in which several processor boards can be plugged into a master chassis, are attracting increasing attention. They're now being marketed as a compact, high performance, alternative to traditional servers (see IBM's BladeServer Blitz).

According to IBM, users can save money on electricity and cooling costs by using low power-processors on certain blades. The hardware vendor also claims that the technology eliminates many of the power-consuming infrastructure components found in traditional one-unit rack servers.

However, Skolnik’s team in Buffalo will not be turning their backs on the Center’s existing Dell and EMC kit, which will be used in conjunction with the new supercomputer. Skolnik says, “We have a voracious appetite for computational research so we will continue to use it.”

But why decide to build the new supercomputer now? Quite simply, the Center’s computational needs were "saturated" according to Skolnik.This is hardly surprising given the nature of the work that Skolnik and his team undertake. An emerging discipline, bioinformatics uses the power of supercomputers to interpret biological data on a molecular level -- in this case, analyzing the structure and behavior of human proteins.

Not surprisingly, storage is a top priority for the Center. As part of the supercomputer infrastructure, seven IBM xSeries 345 servers are connected to 5 terabytes of TotalStorage FAStT700 storage servers to house large volumes of biological and research data.

EMC, which has a storage partnership with Dell, refused to comment on the IBM win. However, a spokeswoman for Dell confirmed that the Texas-based company has a good relationship with the University at Buffalo. She says, “We are very much committed to the work that they are doing.”

SUNY Buffalo is one of the world’s leading supercomputing sites, and the University’s Center for Computational Research employs a range of kit from a number of vendors including Dell, Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW), IBM, and Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ).

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-gen Data Center Forum0

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