By Josh Simons on Apr 14, 2009
Let me say this first: NEHALEM, NEHALEM, NEHALEM. You can call it the Intel Xeon Series 5500 processor if you like, but the HPC community has been whispering about Nehalem and rubbing its collective hands together in anticipation of Nehalem for what seems like years now. So, let's talk about Nehalem.
Actually, let's not. I'm guessing that between the collective might of the Intel PR machine, the traditional press, and the blogosphere you are already well-steeped in the details of this new Intel processor and why it excites the HPC community. Rather than talk about the processor per se, let's talk instead about the more typical HPC scenario: not about a single Nehalem, but rather piles of Nehali and how to best to deploy them in an HPC cluster configuration.
Our HPC clustering approach is based on the Sun Constellation architecture, which we've deployed at TACC and other large-scale HPC sites around the world. These existing systems house compute nodes in the Sun Blade 6000 System chassis which holds four blade shelves, each with twelve blade systems for a total of 48 blades per chassis. Constellation also includes matching InfiniBand infrastructure, including InfiniBand Network Express Modules (NEMs) and a range of InfiniBand switches that can be used to build petascale compute clusters. You can see several of the 82 TACC Ranger Constellation chassis in this photo, interspersed with (black) inline cooling units.
As part of our continued focus on HPC customer requirements, we've done something interesting with our new Nehalem-based Vayu blade (officially, the Sun Blade X6275 Server Module): each blade houses two separate nodes. Here is a photo of the Vayu blade:
Each of the nodes is a diskless, two-socket Nehalem system with 12 DDR3 DIMM slots per node (up to 96 GB per node) and on-board QDR InfiniBand. It's actually not quite correct to call this node diskless because it does include two Sun Flash Module slots (one per node) that each provide up to 24 GB of FLASH storage through a SATA interface. I am sure our HPC customers will use what amounts to an ultra-fast disk for some interesting applications.
Using Vayu blades, each Sun Constellation chassis can now support a total of 2 nodes/blade \* 12 blades/shelf \* 4 shelves/chassis = 96 nodes with a peak floating-point performance of about 9 TFLOPs. While a chassis can support up to 96 GB / node \* 96 nodes = 9.2 TB of memory, there are some subtleties involved in optimizing and configuring memory for Nehalem systems so I recommend reading John Nerl's blog entry for a detailed discussion of this topic.
For a quick visual tour of Vayu, see the annotated photo below. The major components are: A = Nehalem 4-core processor; B = Memory DIMMs; C = Mellanox Connect-X QDR InfiniBand ASIC; D = Tylersburg I/O chipset; E = Base Management Controller (BMC) / Service Processor (one per node); F = Sun Flash Modules (SATA, 24GB per node.) The connector at the top right supports two PCIe2 interfaces, two InfiniBand interfaces, and 2 GbE interfaces. The GbE logic is hiding under the BMC daughter board.
To accommodate this high-density blade approach we've developed a new QDR InfiniBand NEM (officially called the SunBlade 6048 QDR IB Switched NEM), which is shown below. This Network Express Module plugs into a blade shelf's midplane and forms the first level of InfiniBand fabric in a cluster configuration. Specifically, the two on-board 36-port Mellanox QDR switch chips act as leaf switches from which larger configurations can be built. Of the 72 total switch ports available, 24 are used for the Vayu blades and 9 from each switch chip are used to interconnect the two switches, leaving a total of 72 - 24 - 2\*9 = 30 QDR links available for off-shelf connections. These links leave the NEM through 10 physical connectors, each of which carries three QDR X4 links over a single cable. As we discussed when the first version of Constellation was released, aggregating 4X links into 12X cables results in significant customer benefits related to reliability, density, and complexity. In any case, these cables can be connected to Constellation switches to form larger, tree-based fabrics. Or they can be used in switchless configurations to build torus-based topologies by using the ten cables to carry X, Y, and Z traffic between shelves and across chassis. As mentioned, for example, here. The NEM also provides GbE connectivity for each of the 24 nodes in the blade shelf.
Looking back at the TACC photo, we can now double the compute density shown there with our newest Constellation-based systems using the new Vayu blade. Oh, and by the way, we can also remove those inline cooling units and pack those chassis side-by-side for another significant increase in compute density. I'll leave how we accomplish that last bit for a future blog entry.