Sun Aims High With Constellation Blade-Based System

In terms of density, the system designed for high-performance computing packs a maximum of 1.7 petaflops of computing power in a 48-blade rack-size chassis.

June 26, 2007

3 Min Read
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Sun Microsystems on Tuesday is expected to demonstrate its high-performance computing platform that includes a high-density, rack-size blade server chassis and all the other components needed for an out-of-the-box supercomputer.

Sun showed off the Sun Constellation System, a peta-scale computing environment, at the International Supercomputing Conference in Dresden, Germany. Among the platform's advantages, according to Sun, is the technology's use of open standards, fewer cables, higher density, and a pay-as-you-go licensing model.

"We tried to take all of the pieces that customers traditionally use to deliver a high-performance (server) cluster, and put them into a packaged product that you can buy off the shelf, so to speak," Michael McNerney, director of Sun's blade server product line, said. "The idea is to simplify the customer's environment, and to assemble all the pieces in one place, rather than buy them from different vendors and then integrate the technologies."

In terms of density, the system packs a maximum of 1.7 petaflops of computing power in a 48-blade rack-size chassis that weighs 500 pounds less, and has a 20% smaller footprint than conventional rack/chassis combos, according to Sun. Part of the reduction in size and weight is due to a 6 to 1 reduction in cables in ports.

The blades run the OpenSolaris operating system on Sun Sparc, Advanced Micro Devices Opteron, or Intel Xeon microprocessors. The platform can run general-purpose software, and includes four InfiniBand Leaf Switch Network Express Modules.Part of the package includes an ultra-dense switch with a bisection bandwidth of 110 Tbytes per second, a five-stage internal full Clos (multistage switching) network, 3456 ports, SDR or DDR, and 24 line cards with 144 4X ports and 48 12X connectors each. The technology is packed into a dual-wide rack chassis.

For storage, the platform includes a Sun Fire X4500 powered by two AMD Opteron chips and 16 Gbytes of memory, and two PCI Express 4x slots driving 1-Gbyte per second input/output. The system packs 48 Tbytes of storage in a 4RU server.

The software stack includes Sun Studio 12 and Sun HPC Cluster tools; workload and cluster management applications; and the OpenSolaris operating system.

Sun built the platform with the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas in Austin. The system is designed to run complex applications, such as climate, weather, and ocean modeling; and earthquake and seismic simulations. The TACC supercomputer is scheduled to go into production this summer. The Sun Constellation System is set for release in the fourth quarter.

The platform is an "impressively dense package," said Gordon Haff, an analyst for Illuminata, adding that the Constellation System at the University of Texas is a "pretty big super-computing installation."The integrated switch was particularly impressive, because of its size. "There's a lot of rocket science that went into the design," Haff said. "The fact that [Constellation] is using a massively scaled InfiniBand switch is pretty impressive technology."

Blade servers are a growing segment of the server market. The hardware uses less space than tower and rack-mount servers, and can reduce maintenance and management costs. Blade servers slide into slots on a chassis, and can be easily replaced when they fail, or added if more horsepower is needed.

IBM led the worldwide general server market last year, followed by Hewlett-Packard. Sun, Dell, and others share a small segment of the total market.

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