Sun Scales Down HPC

Sun offers a scaled-down version of its Constellation system with a new switch and blade based on quad-core Intel Xeons.

Sun Microsystems is offering a scaled-down version of its Constellation high-performance computer system, with a new, smaller switch and a blade based on quad-core Intel Xeon processors.
This scaled-down version of the Constellation system, which can offer a performance of about 7 teraflops or 7 trillion calculations per second, will be on display June 18 at the International Supercomputer Conference in Germany.

Sun first detailed Constellation in 2007 as way for the company to re-enter the supercomputer market with a power system that would rival those being developed and deployed by IBM, such as the Blue Gene/L system and the recently announced Roadrunner. A fully configured Constellation can conceivably reach performance levels of 2 petaflops or 2 quadrillion calculations per second. For now, the most powerful of these Sun supercomputers-at 504 teraflops-is housed at the Texas Advanced Computing Center in Austin.

While the building of these massive supercomputers garners headlines, Sun is also looking to expand its HPC reach into the enterprise with a flexible cluster that can scale both up and down. While many businesses need the hundreds of teraflops of performance that only a HPC machine can deliver, most do not.

"They key thing is that this is one compatible architecture," said Bjorn Andersson, director of Sun's HPC and Integrated Systems group. "If you look at the extremes, it's the same architecture with one blade and with 14,000 blades, and it's all compatible."

Networking and Clustering

HPC is also growing as a business, and all of the major vendors want a piece. According to IDC, the market for HPC servers grew 15.5 percent in 2007, to $11.6 billion. The research company said it expects the market to reach $15 billion by 2011.

To help build these smaller scale Constellation clusters, Sun is offering a scaled-down version of its Datacenter Switch 3456 called the 3x24, which fits with a 1U (1.75-inch) rack unit and offers 72 DDR4 (double data rate) Infiniband ports. (The original Constellation switch had more than 3,400 ports.) The company is also offering a new Sun Blade X6450, which can use two or four quad-core Xeon processors. (The first Constellation was built with quad-core AMD Opteron chips.)

"With this new blade, you can build a rack with 7 teraflops and if you went back a couple of years, 7 teraflops would have made it into the Top 500," said Andersson. "With Constellation architecture you can scale that up to 2 petaflops, and that's based on the current CPU technologies. As the CPUs get faster and we put them into blades, those numbers will change. We have built in a lot of headroom with this architecture and the backbone, in terms of the interconnect, is Infiniband based."

Charles King, an analyst at Pund-IT Research, said that since all the major HPC vendors have access to the same Intel and AMD processors, Sun is looking for a way to differentiate itself from the others. One way is to create a flexible cluster, which is becoming the dominant architecture in HPC. The other way is through creating a better way to network these systems together.

"The networking technology could be a very valuable differentiator for Sun in this case," said King, referring to the types of switches the company has developed for its HPC systems. "It's no longer enough just to have access to the same processors anymore. You have to make a pitch for your secret sauce."

In addition to the hardware, Sun is offering software for storage and archiving for its HPC system based on its StorageTek SAM (Storage Archive Manager) and QFS (Quick File System) products. Andersson also said that Sun will offer a number of software stacks to make the HPC clusters easier to manage, as well as offer integration and testing. For example, the Linux Edition 1.0 is meant to speed up the deployment of a HPC cluster based on Linux.