HP, Dell, Other OEMs Embrace AMD's 'Interlagos' Chips

At the SC 11 supercomputing show, systems makers like HP and Dell talked about the importance of HPC to their businesses.

SEATTLE-Hewlett-Packard, Dell and other systems makers are quickly adopting new processors and other technologies as they look to meet demands in a high-performance computing market that is expanding beyond universities and research institutions into mainstream enterprises.

At the SC 11 supercomputing show here, those OEMs and others-including Cray, Appro, Penguin Computing, SGI and Acer-quickly announced new systems based on Advanced Micro Devices' new 16-core Opteron 6200 "Interlagos" processors, which the chip maker formally introduced at the conference Nov. 14. The new chips are designed to offer high performance and energy efficiency, and work well in systems running in virtualized and cloud environments, according to AMD officials.

HP quickly announced five new systems in its ProLiant line powered by the Interlagos chips and aimed at large-scale, virtualized and database workloads. In addition, HP at the showing also was previewing an upcoming system running on Intel's new Xeon E5 chips, which also is aimed at HPC and cloud computing environments.

HP officials wanted to send a message during SC 11 that the company will be aggressive in bringing systems to the HPC and supercomputing markets, and having a full range of Interlagos-based systems ready and demonstration of Xeon E5 servers in the works were proof points, according to Marc Hamilton, vice president of HPC sales at HP.

"There is a real mainstreaming of HPC [underway]," Hamilton told eWEEK during the show. "It's not just in labs [anymore], and not just in universities."

HP's new Interlagos-based ProLiant G7 servers will use up to 2,048 cores per rack and 33 percent more cores for highly concurrent HPC workloads, a performance improvement of up to 35 percent over previous ProLiants, according to HP. They also offer a lower cost per virtual machine.

Analysts are seeing strong growth in the HPC market, including within traditional enterprises.

"The commercial sector is still quite large," Addison Snell, CEO of market research firm Intersect360 Research, said during a press briefing at SC 11.

Both Snell and IDC analyst Earl Joseph said such business trends as compute-intensive applications, storage and Big Data are key trends driving the HPC space. Joseph said that in 2010, revenue in the HPC market grew 10 percent, to $9.5 billion, and IDC is forecasting 7 percent growth over the next five years. The challenges to that growth going forward, he said, will be power, cooling, real estate and systems management.

Last year, IBM was the dominant HPC system maker, with 33 percent of the market, followed by HP at 25 percent, Dell at 19 percent and Oracle (after the Sun Microsystems acquisition) at 5 percent, Snell said. HP took over the No. 2 spot from Dell in 2010, being the primary beneficiary of the instability caused by Oracle's acquisition of Sun, he said.

The HPC business is an important one to Dell, according to Tim Carroll, director and global lead for the company's Research Computing Solutions. In 2007, when Carroll came to Dell, there was a debate going on whether the company should exit the HPC space. He argued that Dell should not only stay in the business, but invest strongly. Dell officials agreed, and now the company is seeing strong growth in its HPC business, Carroll told eWEEK at the show.

Dell will offer the Opteron 6200 chips in some of its PowerEdge 815 servers, including the R815.

A key differentiator for Dell is the building-block approach the company takes with such systems, he said. While such an approach may mean that Dell systems are not always at the top of the Top500 list of the world's most powerful supercomputers, HPC is a good business for the company. During the show, Dell announced a partnership with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in South Africa and Eclipse Holdings-a Dell partner-to build a supercomputer in that country that will enable researchers to address such regional issues as drought, climate change and HIV.

"It will be the biggest cluster on the continent," Carroll said.

The HPC cluster features 260 Dell PowerEdge C servers as well as Infiniband switches and services from Dell, and was installed and integrated in three weeks.

IBM reportedly will be putting AMD's new Interlagos chips into its System x 3755 M3 rack system, the only server from Big Blue powered by AMD chips. The four-socket system is designed for such environments as databases, virtualization and cloud.

The new chips are ideal for such workloads, given the high levels of performance and energy efficiency offered by the chips, Margaret Lewis, director of software planning for AMD's Server Division, said in an interview with eWEEK at SC 11. The Opteron 6200 chips offer up to 84 percent better performance while using half the power per core and two-thirds less floor space than their predecessors.

"We, obviously, live in a world where raw performance means a lot," Lewis said. "But you can't have raw performance without taking into account power consumption and, also, the cost."