Eurotech G-Station promises a new concept for small yet powerful HPC systems
In business and research there is a push to get results faster. Faster product development, shortest time to market and solution, cost optimization bring to organisation a competitive edge. As a result, companies invest in simulation, modelling and computational power to facilitate the implementation of such streamlining strategies.
High performance computing (HPC) has been progressively seen as an integrated discipline that brings to companies the computational power they need to get faster results. Organisations operating in industries like automotive, aerospace, pharmaceutical, chemistry, digital media and oil&gas are progressively adopting HPC solutions to speed up development and curb costs by replacing live test with simulation.
Companies invest to “outcompute” competitors, but they do so in different degrees. On the one hand, large research centers, oil&gas companies and large manufactures invest in impressive centralized data centers. On the other hand, small and medium enterprises or divisions in larger companies use cloud computing, purchase small to medium clusters or grid their workstations together. Even with large centralized resources, people who develop HPC applications may be not willing to wait in queue to use them and can see an advantage of having smaller HPC installations at hand.
There is a growing demand for smaller HCP systems that cater SME and department computational needs, as a way to bridge the gap between a 1000$ workstation and a $100m data center. However, workstations can nowadays pack powerful multicore CPUs and GPUs like the Nvidia Keplers: a modern workstation can easily have 8 cores accelerated by 1 or more Nvidia GPUs.
“Workstation are much more powerful now than few years ago, but that seems not to be enough” – says Giovanbattista Mattiussi, head of HPC marketing at Eurotech, a leading HPC manufacturer and solution provider – “I recently visited an automotive customer and despite they had the most powerful workstations in the market networked together with Gb Ethernet, their simulations take from days to weeks to complete!”
That there is a market for HPC mini clusters is a fact, but it is not new. Already few years go companies like Cray and SGI launched deskside HPC products, but those products did not fly.
“We are aware that personal supercomputers did not sell as expected” - continues Mattiussi - “but I think it was more of a problem of how market demand was fulfilled rather than a mistake in market perception”.
Mattiussi’s opinion is that there were some major things that held back sales of deskside HPCs. One was noise. People buy personal supercomputers to use them outside data centre environments (this is one of the strongest selling points of the concept) and often deploy them in offices or next door rooms (storage rooms, printer rooms…). So, a deskside HPC has to be silent, but this is not a trivial technical issue to solve.
Second was cabling on the rear of the unit, which, for some of the deskside HPCs in the market, was somewhat disorganized. Third was timing: Mattiussi thinks many commercial software used in industries like manufacturing , engineering and the life sciences (the target for mini HPC clusters) have only recently advanced in scalability over many cores and over GPGPUs. The fact of having applications making full use of HPC architectures may make more customers in those industries willing to invest in HPC infrastructure. Since the applications in areas like CAE, CFD, computational chemistry, bioinformatics, reservoir simulations, rendering don’t need to scale too high, a 32-64 core cluster is generally enough for the most demanding needs.
“I would add” – elaborates Mattiussi – “that another market requirement is the need of simplicity: a geologist, an engineer or a biologist doesn’t want to deal with IT and HPC related issues. They only want to do their job faster”. This represents an additional technical challenge due to the sheer complexity that HPC architectures can have.
With the aim of extending and improving the deskside HPC concept, Eurotech has recently presented the Aurora G-Station, a powerful water cooled, compact and silent HCP system with space for max 8 hybrid blades based on Nvidia Kepler K20 or K20x.
Built on the same architectural grounds of the innovative Aurora Tigon Supercomputers, the Aurora G-Station maximizes performance, energy efficiency and high density.
“The challenges we faced in developing the G-Station were mostly in the packaging of it to combine high computational power, low noise operations, compactness and simplicity of deployment/installation” – says Paul Arts, Eurotech HCP R&D director – “A fully loaded G-Station has a peak performance of 22 TFlop/s, and despite an efficiency of over 3.2 GFlops/Watt, we needed to cool the resulting heat of such power in the most silent way, so avoiding fans as much as we could”
“It was determinant we could leverage the Aurora water cooled architecture” –continues Arts –“Our Aurora motherboards are entirely water cooled, including the Nvidia Kepler GPUs. Avoiding fans, water cooling represents the most silent way possible to cool a computer”
Water cooling and high density design provide compactness. The backplane support nodes interconnection, power supply and liquid distribution, avoiding any form of rear panel cabling.
“I like more the terms personal HPC system or personal HPC cluster than deskside HPC” – adds Mattiussi – “because they give more the idea of a system that can scale according to customer needs. We did notice that departments or SME often starts very low, buying few nodes almost as a trial. Then, the HPC use in the company grows, so offering modularity in the G-Station is fundamental. Customers can start with few blades, grow to a full loaded 16CPU-16GPUs cluster and then go “outside the box” connecting more G-Stations together to eventually move the G-Station(s) components into a rack, keeping the same cooling infrastructure”.
The Eurotech G-Station is marketed in 2 versions, with identical IT features but different water cooling solutions.
One version of the product has integrated water cooling, giving the advantage of a standalone system with no need of additional plumbing.
The other version is split, with the computational unit in a cube that fits under a table and the cooling unit (heat exchanger plus pump) in a separate unit that can be accommodated outside the building, with the same technical complexity and plumbing requirements of a home split air conditioner.
As for the specs, the G-Station mounts up to 8 water cooled boards each with double Intel Xeon E5 8 cores, double Nvidia Kepler K20 or K20x GPUs and up to 64 (moving to 128) GB DDR3 RAM. The nodes are interconnected with Infiniband QDR with optional Gb Ethernet. The G-Station has an integrated management node and comes with optional fast storage and the added value of the Nvidia Grid technology.
Mattiussi adds that “G-Station stands for GPU Station so it is not a case that it has a lot of Nvidia in it. The station leverages not only the computational acceleration of the Keplers but also all of the visualization and remote visualization capability Nvidia can help to achieve. The idea is to provide to our customer proven accelerations and visualization capabilities in areas like CAE, CFD, rendering…starting from the work we are doing not only with Nvidia but also with ISVs like Altair or more recently Ansys”.
Eurotech aims to combine distinctive hardware features like low noise, compactness and modularity with an appliance style approach, aiming to provide canned solutions to the computational needs of many rising sectors of HPC like manufacturing, computational finance and rendering.
Eurotech (ETH.MI) is a global company based in Italy and with subsidiaries in Europe, North America and Asia. The Eurotech Group develops HPCs, M2M cloud software and miniaturized computers for special uses (NanoPCs). Eurotech HPC leads for R&D and technology innovation bringing to market HPC solutions that leverage a long and successful stance in multi-year and multi-million research projects. Eurotech HPC aims to provide its research and industry customers with the most effective HPC solutions to accelerate their business helping them to get mission critical results faster.