Blade Densities on the Rise Again

Arthur Cole

How dense can they get?

I'm talking about blade servers, the latest of which have significantly upped the ante in terms of packing as much processing power in as little space as possible.

Super Micro got the ball rolling this week with its announcement of a new SuperBlade system that doubles the number of dual-socket machines that can be crammed into a single rack. The company says the TwinBlade design of the SBI-7226T-T2 allows for 20 nodes in a 7 RU enclosure using either dual- or quad-core machines. That's a density of just .35 RU per blade and represents a 94 percent increase in power efficiency. The outfit is available with 40 Gbps QDR InfiniBand connections from Mellanox.

HP is also doubling the density of its ProLiant system with the BL2x220c G6 machine, which holds two two-socket Xeon 5500-based blades in a single c-Class compartment. The package is part of the company's Extreme Scale-Out (ExSO) initiative, which also includes the new StorageWorks X9000 system that HP originally acquired from Ibrix, as well as new ProLiant SL machines that feature AMD's six-core Istanbul Opterons.

And even though Oracle's planned acquisition of Sun Microsystems has hit a snag with European regulators, life goes on for the hardware side of Sun. This week, the company unveiled a new Sun Blade, the X6275, with a GbE connection that allows for a 70 percent increase in density inside the 6048 chassis. Total performance is rated at up to 9 teraflops.

That's largely the same goal that SGI has been working toward with the Altix UltraViolet (UV) blade. The company is matching its new NUMAlink 5 interconnect with the upcoming eight-core Nehalem 7500 chips, providing a 15 GBps interconnect within the cluster. A single blade can hold up to 16 cores for up to 145 gigaflops, which translated to about 18.56 teraflops for a 256-socket cluster, according to the Register. With a shared memory architecture that provides up to 2,048 cores, users can get up to 2 TB in a single image, even more if you swap out the Nehalems for Itaniums.

Whenever you start talking about blade densities, the first thing that comes to mind is cooling. And certainly, packing more computing power into a smaller space will add to the heat load for that space. But it's also true that if additional computing power is needed, it is still more energy efficient to increase density than to simply add more of the same old blades.

In short, a half rack of machines is easier on the electric bill than a full rack.

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