Eye on Blades Blog: Trends in Infrastructure
Get HP BladeSystem news, upcoming event information, technology trends, and product information to stay up to date with what is happening in the world of blades.

HP’s Most Powerful Thin Client Unveiled today at VMworld

HP attends VMworld San Francisco and demos the new HP t820 Flexible Series Thin Client. HP’s most powerful thin client to date helps financial trading, architecture, military and government agencies thrive with outstanding performance, security and graphics. 

"If something doesn't exist, we'll make it"

Over the holidays, I took my daughter to see a movie about a Cajun frog.  I admit to a pang of jealousy as I passed crowds lined up for screenings of "Avatar". However, given my situation -- namely a 5-year-old clamoring for popcorn and a Princess movie -- I made the best choice for my needs.


It turns out those Avatar-watching throngs got to see the result of another best choice; one made by a group of IT experts in Miramar, New Zealand


Weta is an Academy Award-winning studio that did the digital effects for Avatar.  The imaginations at Weta Digital have created some incredible virtual realities. Jim Ericson from Information Management quotes Weta's Paul Gunn as explaining that 'if it's something that doesn't exist, we'll make it.'  Pretty amazing innovations coming from a relatively small place on the other side of the world from Hollywood and Silicon Valley.


In an article and blog, Jim sketches for us the 4000-server facility Weta used to render the VFX of the blockbuster.  One eye-opener: the final output from this behemoth server farm fits on a single hard drive.


Weta's space- and power-constrained facility uses advanced techniques like blades and water cooling.  Performance is a paramount need –so much so that their server clusters comprise seven of the world's 500 largest supercomputers.  But their workloads didn't just need massive scalability, they also required high bandwidth between individual server nodes, and relatively local storage.  


As Jim points out, they chose to build their infrastructure with HP BladeSystem, using the double-dense BL2x220c  server blade.  This very innovative, compact server (shown in the video below) let them achieve, in their words, 'greater processing density than anything else found on the market'. 


Actually, any engineer could stick 64 Intel® Xeon® processors into a 17-inch-high box and get it to run.   However, very few computer companies have the expertise -- and resources -- to make such a thing affordable and efficient, and to be able to warranty  that it will run without pause for 3+ years. 


Even more important: Weta possessed something relatively rare when they chose HP BladeSystem. They were already experts in bladed architectures.  Their prior infrastructure was based on IBM blade servers, so they already expected the space- and power-saving benefits of blades.   Weta was seeking  the best bladed architecture.  And Weta determined that, for them, HP BladeSystem was the best choice.

Harnessing Horsepower: Cores, Capacity, and Code

Last week at IDF, two Intel technologists spoke about different fixes to the problem of compute capacity outpacing the typical server's ability to handle it.
 
For the past 5 years, x86 CPU makers have boosted performance by adding more cores within the processor.  That's enabled servers with ever-increasing CPU horsepower.   RK Hiremane (speaking on "I/O Innovations for the Enterprise Cloud") says that that I/O subsystems haven't kept pace with this processor capacity, moving the bottleneck for most applications from the CPU to the network and storage subsystems.




He gives the example of virtualized workloads.  Quad-core processors can support the compute demands for a bunch of virtual machines.  However, the typical server I/O subsystem (based on 1Gb Ethernet and SAS hard drives) gets overburdened by the I/O demand of all those virtual machines.  He predicts an immindent evolution (or revolution) in server I/O to fix this problem.


Among other things, he suggests solid-state drives (SSDs) and 10 gigabit Ethernet will be elements of that (r)evolution.  So will new virtualization techniques for network devices.   (BTW, some of the changes he predicts are already being adopted on ProLiant server blades, like embedded 10GbE controllers with "carvable" Flex-10 NICs.   Others, like solid-state drives, are now being widely adopted by many server makers.)


Hold on, said Anwar Ghuloum.  The revolution that's needed is actually in programming, not hardware.   There are still processor bottlenecks holding back performance; they stem from not making the shift in software to parallelism that x86 multi-core requires.


He cites five challenges to mastering parallel programming for x86 multi-core:
* Learning Curve (programmer skill sets)
* Readability (ability for one programmer to read & maintain other programmer's parallel code)
* Correctness (ability to prove a parallel algorithm generates the right results)
* Scalability (ability to scale beyond 2 and 4 cores to 16+)
* Portability (ability to run code on multiple processor families)


Anwar showed off one upcoming C++ library called Ct from RapidMind (now part of Intel) that's being built to help programmers solve these challenges.  (Intel has a Beta program for this software, if you're interested.)


To me, it's obvious that the "solution" is a mix of both.  Server I/O subsystems must (and are) improving, and ISVs are getting better at porting applications to scale with core count.

Tips to Reduce Processor Latency


For some of financial and data-acquisition applications, it's more important to finish one calculation super-fast than a bunch of calculations slightly slower.  There's a group of HPC apps with a similar requirement:  two identical instructions need to have precisely the same latency, every time they're executed.


Real-Time Operating Systems (RTOS) can help address these two scenarios.  These OSes address latency in a number of ways; for example, by ditching device-polling and background cleanup tasks that that standard OS's normally do.


However, some features of modern industry-standard servers can hurt low- and consistant-latency computing.  For example, low-power processor modes might save power, but any such processor throttling can increase latency.  Another example would be management routines that consume CPU cycles, such as routines built into the BIOS of ProLiant server blades that occasionally use CPU cycles to track resource utilization and monitor correctable memory errors in the memory controller.


If you face these situations and have already gone with an RTOS, HP's got some settings in our RBSU (ROM BIOS Setup Utility) that can offer additional help.


Load up RBSU (accessed by pressing F9 while the system is booting), and change the following settings:
1) Set "ProLiant Power Regulator Mode" to "Static High Mode".
2) Disable processor c-state support. 
3) If you are running an application that is single-threaded, set "Processor Core Disable" to "One Core Enabled".
4) On Intel Xeon 5500-based servers (like the BL460c G6), disable "QPI Power Management", and ensure "Intel Turbo Boost Technology" is set to "Enabled".


If you want to go even further, there's a way to disable some of those periodic BIOS checks on processor utilization and correctable errors. For most G5 and G6 server blades, HP has a tool called conrep (provided with the Smart Start Scripting Tool Kit) that let you control these settings.


In the BL280c G6, BL460c G6, and BL490c G6, you can also disable those things straight from RBSU.  Hit "Control-A" within the RBSU, and some additional options will appear in the
"Service Options" menu.


Search
Follow Us


About the Author(s)
  • More than 25 years in the IT industry developing and managing marketing programs. Focused in emerging technologies like Virtualization, cloud and big data.
  • I work within EMEA ISS Central team and a launch manager for new products and general communications manager for EMEA ISS specific information.
  • Hello! I am a social media manager for servers, so my posts will be geared towards HP server-related news & info.
  • HP Servers, Converged Infrastructure, Converged Systems and ExpertOne
  • WW responsibility for development of ROI and TCO tools for the entire ISS portfolio. Technical expertise with a financial spin to help IT show the business value of their projects.
  • I am a member of the HP BladeSystem Portfolio Marketing team, so my posts will focus on all things blades and blade infrastructure. Enjoy!
  • Luke Oda is a member of the HP's BCS Marketing team. With a primary focus on marketing programs that support HP's BCS portfolio. His interests include all things mission-critical and the continuing innovation that HP demonstrates across the globe.
  • Global Marketing Manager with 15 years experience in the high-tech industry.
  • Network industry experience for more than 20 years - Data Center, Voice over IP, security, remote access, routing, switching and wireless, with companies such as HP, Cisco, Juniper Networks and Novell.
  • 20 years of marketing experience in semiconductors, networking and servers. Focused on HP BladeSystem networking supporting Virtual Connect, interconnects and network adapters.
  • Greetings! I am on the HP Enterprise Group marketing team. Topics I am interested in include Converged Infrastructure, Converged Systems and Management, and HP BladeSystem.
Labels