First day at SC07 - Exhausting

SC07 is always an exhausting event. You see lots of neat new stuff and try to learn about it. You see old friends. You make new friends. You drink a lot of... lemonade. This can really wear a person down. Plus this year's SC is in Reno. Everywhere you turn there are slot machines, lots of smoke, lots of alchohol, and sometimes lots of people.

Let's turn our attention to what's going on at SC07

I will start by saying that Reno is a bit better in general than Tampa Bay. The floor is more spread out and not so cramped as in Tampa. There is much more to do in Reno than Tampa (the cigar stores and the like don't close on Monday as they did in Tampa). The SC07 committee has lots of buses running all of the time back and forth to the hotels and the convention hall. my only complaint is,


Reno is a decent enough place, but unless you like to gamble, perhaps love to smoke or drink, it's not so much fun. Flight into and out of Reno are somewhat limited which means most of them filled up very quickly. I'm not sure why they chose Reno instead of someplace further south with better weather. Oh well, next's year conference is in Austin so it should be warm

I didn't make any of the technical sessions and likely won't, so I'll focus more on the exhibit floor. The exhibit booths seem to be getting bigger and bigger every year. For example SiCortex has this massive open booth with a center stage that rises up about 5-6 feet off the floor and features one of their new large systems. Microsoft likes to go vertical and has their usual two-story booth in operation.

The opening of the exhibit floor was yesterday (Monday) in the evening. This means that there is free drinks and food on the floor. I've never seen so many vultures in my life! As soon as the food it the floor the locusts decended upon the it and poof - it was gone. The swag collectors were also in full swing, gathering up all of the little goodies that various booths were handing out. I actually watched a couple of people scoop hand fulls of pens at the CSC booth!

I did get to cruise the floor just a little bit last night and I will do more in the next couple of days. But in my little tour I did see a few neat things. SiCortex was shoing their new SC072 workstations I haven't played with one yet, but I plan to. They look to be a neat little desktop box.

Mellanox was showing their new ConnectX NICs that are really cool. With the same hardware on the NIC, you can have the NIC behave as a 10GigE NIC, a GigE NIC, or an IB NIC. Just a little firware upgrade and have a new NIC. The prices on these haven't been discussed publically, but I'm willing to bet they will be competitive!

Another interesting thing I learned from Mellanox is that InfiniBand is not beyond the reach of small clusters or even the cluster builder. I learned that Flextronics makes an eight-port IB switch that is under $1,000 (around $100 a port). You can also get older SDR (single data rate) IB cards for a bit over $150. Cables aren't too expensive for just 8 nodes since they are likely to be really close together. So for about $250-$280 a port you can have IB on your small cluster (guess what Jeff will be asking for Christmas!!!).

I talked to some people from Panasas and they were telling me about a new option that have for their storage unit. Panasas has a 4U box that can accomidate up to 11 blades. Typically one of the blades is a Director Blade that handles metadata and the other 10 blades are Storage Blades that store data. Each of the blades is connected to an internal GigE switch that has 4 ports going out that you can connect to a switch that connects to the nodes. Normally with 4 GigE links, you can get around 300-350 MB/s from a single box.

Panasas announced that they will have a new internal switch that has a 10GigE link coming out so you can plug the unit into a 10GigE port on an Ethernet switch or even a 10GigE on a multi-fabric switch with perhaps Infiniband. While the 10GigE switch is not here today, Panasas was showing something called a pass-through card. The pass-through card just passes the GigE connection from each blade out of the back of the unit. This allows you to plug all 11 GigE connections directly into an Ethernet switch. Of course you have to have 11 open ports, but it's possible. In fact Panasas was showing that you can connect a single storage unit with 11 GigE connections to a Force10 switch that has a 10GigE uplink. The coolest thing is that the performance of the unit has gone way up! With this new configuration they are seeing a bit over 600 MB/s from a single unit. That is really a huge jump in performance with a small change in the network. Very very cool.

One other thing that is really neat is the new Intel Penryn family of chips. It's the new version of the Core 2 chip family but using 45 nm production technology and some small chip changes. For example, they have increased the amount of L2 cache on the quad-core chips, and added SSE4 instructions to the chip. Even better is the performance. I'm not going to steal Doug's thunder (Doug our fearless Monkey leader). Doug has done some benchmarks and published a while paper that talks about the performance of the new Hapertown quad-core server CPU compared to the older quad-core Clovertown CPU. The results are really amazing. Be sure to ask Doug about it or look for the white paper on Appro's website (Appro sponsored the benchmarks).

Doug also wins the "Best Gadget at the Show" award. Doug brought along his new Asus Eee PC. It's a new little laptop from ASUS. It's got a small screen (about 7 inches), runs Linux (it doesn't come with Windows), doesn't have a hard drive, uses Flash storage (4GB) for storing the OS, and also has:

Doug and his Asus EEE
Doug and his Asus EEE
  • An SD card slot
  • Several USB ports
  • Built in wireless that works well
  • Built in webcam
  • Built in microphone
  • VGA out
  • Ethernet port (no modem)

It's a really nice little laptop for $400. Using this laptop on an airplane means that the knucklehead in front of you who is determined to convert their seat into a nice bed by forcing it to recline as far back as it can, won't push the laptop into your stomach or crunch the monitor.

Doug allowed me to play with it a bit. The screen is really bright and very clear (I think the resolution is something like 800 x 480). It's extremely light weight as well (2 lbs?). I found the keyboard to be a small, but Doug assures me that you get used to it so you can touch type on it. Doug collected his prize last evening and dutifully thanked the Academy and all of his fans

I'm going to stop here since I have to shake out the cobwebs, clean up, and generally rejoin the human race. Tonight is the Beowulf Bash which should be lots of fun - it always is. Maybe this year we'll get Don Becker, one of the 2 parents of beowulf's, to do a Pee-Wee Herman dance in white platform shoes on a bar (he could easily join Coyote Ugly).

Enjoy - Jeff!

Jeff Layton is a cluster enthuasist who travels the world, rights articles about clusters, and general fights cluster or HPC stupidty when ever he can find it (it's definitely out there). He can be reached This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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