Voltaire’s New Switch Enables High-Performance Computing

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HP, IBM and Rackable Systems are just a few of the major vendors taking advantage of Voltaire’s new switch and unified fabric management technology to accelerate high-performance computing.

High-performance switches and unified fabric software from Voltaire will power high-performance computing solutions for Hewlett-Packard, Rackable Systems and IBM. The new architecture will enable solution providers to deliver computing systems with lower latency, increase availability and streamline management.

The Grid Director 4700 and UFM (Unified Fabric Manager) software optimises throughput for multicore servers, improving the speed of high-performance computing applications in industries including manufacturing, energy, financial services, life sciences, government, and research and education, leading to greater productivity, improved service levels and higher revenues, says Asaf Somekh, vice president of marketing at Voltaire.

Voltaire’s 40GB InfiniBand director-class switch, the Grid Director 4700, and new UFM software provide enhanced performance, scalability and ease of use for large, high-performance clusters, says Somekh. When used together, the switch and software also provide enterprise-class reliability, high availability and streamlined manageability, he says.

For organisations that play in the high-performance computing space, such as higher education, research, manufacturing and financial services arenas, the new switches and the UFM software can’t come soon enough, says Somekh. While spending among these verticals is challenged, solution providers say that their financial services and manufacturing customers—particularly large organisations—will adopt replacement technology if it improves operations and results in cost-saving efficiencies.

“With processors evolving such as Intel’s Nahalem and AMD’s Shanghai, our customers have incredible computing power—servers are getting stronger, gaining more cores and increasing I/O, and powerful applications are also being developed to take advantage of these,” Somekh says.

But if your network switches and fabric aren’t performing well enough to handle the increased processing power, all that processing power is pretty much useless, he says.

“If your fabric is not capable enough, everything chokes. You just lost all the power you paid for in these servers,” he says. With appetites increasing in areas like government, higher education, research and financial services, Somekh says the timing is perfect for Voltaire’s 40GB switches and UFM software to take high-performance computing to the next level.

“We are seeing early adopters in higher education, research and government, for instance, planning multipetaflop systems in 2009,” Somekh says. “There are now thousands of interlinked servers, just waiting for those new CPUs from Intel and AMD, and this is the perfect opportunity for us—they have been waiting for switches like this.”

Part of Voltaire’s fourth-generation switch family, the Voltaire Grid Director 4700 features 324 ports of 40GB-per-second InfiniBand connectivity, with the option to double capacity to 648 ports using double-density fabric boards. The double-density fabric boards are the basis for HyperScale architecture, a unique stackable architecture for building larger configurations into the hundreds and thousands of nodes, with lower latency and greater simplicity than alternative solutions.

Voltaire began shipping a 36-port version of the 40GB switch, the Grid Director 4036, in December 2008, and the Grid Director 4700 will become available in the second half of 2009, Somekh says.

Even in high-performance computing environments, application latency can degrade performance by a factor of 10 in real-life environments, says Somekh. Voltaire’s objective was to deliver a switch that would eliminate that performance loss and bring high-performance computing architectures back to the performance levels they expected based on benchmarks, he says.

By doing so, Somekh says customers can preserve the investments they made in data centre technology and increase ROI.

“This is helping to preserve investments customers have made in expensive hardware devices, especially those who are seeing cuts in budgets for new IT and data centre investments,” he says. By upgrading to faster switches, customers can squeeze more value out of data centre deployments that may be a few years old, he says.

Voltaire also introduced UFM software, a comprehensive management software package that increases visibility into large server and storage deployments and helps optimise performance, Somekh says. UFM software monitors, analyses and optimises fabric performance to improve the efficiency and utilisation of large InfiniBand fabrics.

It also efficiently monitors and analyses fabric bottlenecks and errors, allowing IT managers to quickly identify failures, inefficiencies and performance issues and take corrective action.

“If end users don’t know what’s happening in their networks, how can they optimise? Where is congestion happening? Can it be managed, mitigated or even eliminated by changing physical placement of hardware or adding more resources?” he says.

UFM can help resolve these issues by removing the additional latency that is created in complex environments when multiple applications rely on a single fabric to simultaneously transmit server and storage traffic, Somekh says. UFM software integrates easily in legacy environments and has a rich Web services API and SDK for easy integration with third-party management platforms, which means organisations don’t have to rip and replace existing data centre technology to gain the benefits of UFM, says Somekh.

HP’s multicore Cluster Platforms are among those compatible with Voltaire’s new Grid Director 4700 switch and Unified Fabric Manager software, and Voltaire announced last week it will partner with IBM to develop a Blade Centre solution that will include a port to directly connect to Grid Director switches.

“By leveraging high-performance computing solutions to accelerate business processes such as research, engineering or analysis, customers can improve decision making, allowing them to grow their businesses,” says Ed Turkel, manager of product marketing for the Scalable Computing and Infrastructure organisation at HP.

Rackable Systems is also among those vendors that see huge potential for the new switches and UFM software with their customers.

Geoffrey Noer, vice president of product management at Rackable Systems, says demand for InfiniBand technology, faster switches and software is rapidly growing among many of Rackable’s customers.

“With Voltaire’s technology, we’ve seen a lot of customer successes in financial services, though high-performance computing demand shows up across the board,” says Noer, “whether in oil and gas, academic institutions, automotive, manufacturing.”

Noer adds that while headlines scream daily about the decline of the stock markets, Rackable’s financial services customers still need to speed up the information-gathering and analysis process so they can make more informed, faster trades.

Noer says he believes the introduction of Voltaire’s new technology will push more customers to upgrade their existing infrastructure to take advantage of the better performance and management, and he expects that adoption will happen quickly.

“We expect adoption will be quite fast,” says Noer. “This technology is key to building a lot of our future high-performance computing solutions.”