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3Leaf Dynamic Data Center: True Hardware Virtualization

3Leaf's Dynamic Data Center (DDC) is a rack of servers, storage and networking that does something unique—it allows administrators to treat the entire rack of systems as one computer running a single OS over multiple AMD Opteron servers. The location of underlying hardware no longer matters. Now that is virtualization. 3Leaf is positioning the DDC to sell to OEM vendors and limited fixed configurations to end-users. Systems will be available in December, 2009.

At a high level, 3Leaf's DDC product line virtualizes and aggregates computing hardware across multiple platforms. A fully racked DDC rack operates as a single computer with 192 cores and 1TB of RAM. To provision a server, you select the number of cores, the amount of RAM and the required I/O. For example, an application that requires more memory than is available in a single server can access RAM  on other hardware.

Consider that a DDC-Server configured with 1TB of shared memory, 192 cores of AMD processors at 2.8 GHz and 8TB of storage, all connected via an InfiniBand switch and complete with cables, Linux OS and DDC-Pool software lists for $250,000.  A DDC-Server with 256GB of shared memory, 96 cores of AMD Istanbul processors at 2.4 GHz, 4TB of storage with an InfiniBand switch, cables, Linux OS and DDC-Pool software is listed at $99,000.  

Three technologies come together to make this happen. Modern processors support nested page tables, which are a hardware memory management technology in the CPU that allows multiple virtual hosts to have the same view of RAM. 3Leaf leverages nested page tables and their custom ASIC to map memory across multiple computers. The servers are interconnected with a high throughput, low latency (approximately 100 nano seconds) Infiniband switch. Finally, native OS support for ACPI dynamically manages hardware resources.

Representatives from 3Leaf say that a similarly sized system from the likes of HP or IBM might run into the millions, but 3Leaf pricing starts at $99K because they use off the shelf parts for the hardware compared to specialized HPC equipment. 

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