Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Supermicro Taps Pluribus For MicroBlade Network OS 

The MicroBlade system

Whitebox server maker Supermicro is teaming up with hybrid server-switch maker and networking upstart Pluribus Networks to run the latter company's Netvisor network operating system on the integrated switches in its MicroBlade hyperscale servers. Supermicro is also pairing the MicroBlades with the Freedom Server-Switch running OpenStack to create a complete, ready-to-run private cloud.

The MicroBlade system is one of the most dense hyperscale systems out there on the market today. The compute in the machine is based on Intel's eight-core "Avoton" Atom C2000 processors, which pack about the same wallop as a two-socket "Nehalem" server from early 2009 and do so in a much, much smaller thermal envelope. As such, the 6U enclosure has two rows of compute sleds, each with four independent Avoton compute nodes, each with up to 16 GB of memory in two SO-DIMM memory slots, and one 2.5-inch SATA-3 disk or solid state drive. That yields 112 server nodes in the 6U chassis, which is pretty dense as these things go. The MicroBlade is using the Atom C2750, which has eight cores running at 2.4 GHz.

The back-end of the MicroBlade enclosure has four bays for integrated switches for linking the compute nodes in the chassis to each other and for uplinking to top-of-rack switches. These integrated MicroBlade switches are based on Intel's "Alta" FM5224 switch chips and they provide a total of 56 downlinks running at 2.5 Gb/sec to the Avoton chips. (Each Avoton chip has four 2.5 Gb/sec ports on its die.) The MicroBlade switch modules have two 40 Gb/sec uplinks (with QSFP connectors) to hook the chassis to the top-of-rack switch and these can be broken down with four-to-one splitters into eight 10 Gb/sec SFP+ uplinks. The module has 442 Gb/sec of aggregate switching bandwidth and supports L2 datacenter bridging, converged enhanced Ethernet (which means the ability to support Fibre Channel over Ethernet), and OpenFlow 1.X software-defined networking to separate the control plane from the data plane.


Thanks to the fact that the MicroBlade switch module is based on the Alta chip from Intel, that also means it can run the Netvisor 2.0 network operating system from Pluribus Networks. The F64 series of Freedom Server-Switch hybrid machines launched back in February by Pluribus are also based on an Alta chip, the FM6400 to be precise. And that means they both can run the same Netvisor operating system. Netvisor runs on switch ASICs from Intel and Broadcom and X86 chips from Intel, merging virtualized network and server applications onto the same physical platform for efficiency, lower cost, and much lower latency.

Although it is by no means required, David Ginsburg, chief marketing officer at Pluribus, tells EnterpriseTech that putting an F64 series Freedom Server-Switch in the top of rack running OpenStack allows for a simple private cloud to be created. The Freedom machine can run Netvisor and function as a top-of-rack switch and its KVM hypervisor can spin up virtual instances of Nova compute, Swift object storage, and other OpenStack components as needed. The switches inside the chassis create a fabric for handling heavy loads of east-west traffic between the nodes – common in clouds – and the top-of-racks can feed into a spine switch to link racks of machines together. Like this:


You don't have to have one Freedom Server-Switch per rack, by the way, as it shows in the chart above. Depending on how you configured the racks and how much traffic you expect between the racks, you might only need one Freedom box for every 8, 12, or 16 racks, says Ginsburg, plus redundant units if you want high availability clustering at the top of rack layer in the network.

Each switch in the MicroBlade setup will come with the basic Netvisor IPS license, which provides the switching fabric within the enclosures. With a chassis loaded up with half the blades and half the switch modules, the cost of the MicroBlade setup with the switching software included will be set at a "not to exceed" price of $30,000 by Supermicro for its downstream channel partners, according to Ginsburg. A fully loaded MicroBlade enclosure will have an NTE price of $55,000. If you want to load up the Netvisor SDF license, which includes more sophisticated monitoring and data analytics for network traffic, Ginsburg says add another 15 percent or so to the solution cost. The basic license of Netvisor allows for multi-switch clusters to be run through a single management pane and the extra features in the SDF license can trace every host server and virtual machine and every network connection on the fabric, do time series analysis on them, and also adds in advanced routing and a user interface called vManage. Supermicro and its channel partners provide Level 1 software support on the system, with Pluribus providing Level 2 and Level 3 support on the software when needed.

If you do the math, the cost of the MicroBlade-Netvisor combo works out to around $60 per core with the base networking function, not including the Freedom top-of-rack unit or a Red Hat OpenStack license. (Pluribus has partnered with the Linux giant to distribute its variant of OpenStack on its server-switch hybrids and was demonstrating it in April at Red Hat Summit.) The MicroBlade setup eliminates 99 percent of the cabling required by a similar setup using rack-based servers and can deliver a core of computing in under 5 watts.

The MicroBlade running Netvisor for switching will be available by the end of the second quarter.

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