TopSpin Pushes Utility Computing with Grid Switch Bundle
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
TopSpin Communications, which is best known as one of the most vocal proponents of the InfiniBand switched I/O architecture, has announced a special bundle of its InfiniBand server switches, InfiniBand host adapters, and VFrame server provisioning and management software to help promote the adoption of grid computing.
The Grid to Go bundle comes in two flavors, one for supporting a full rack of servers and another for supporting a half rack. The equipment to span a full rack of servers is comprised of one TopSpin 360 Server Switch, which can support up to 24 InfiniBand-attached servers and has up to 12 expansion slots for Ethernet and Fibre Channel gateways. The Ethernet gateways are used to connect end users to the cluster, while the Fibre Channel gateways are used to connect servers to SAN-based storage arrays. The full rack bundle includes a TopSpin EX Ethernet Gateway, which has six Gigabit Ethernet ports, which can also be used to link to NAS disk arrays as well as to end users of the cluster. The bundle includes one Fibre Channel Gateway, which has two 1Gbps or 2Gbps ports, 24 of TopSpin's PCI-X 10 Gbps InfiniBand host adapters, 24 InfiniBand cables, and a 25 node license to the VFrame software. The whole shebang costs $64,995. The half rack option does not cost half as much, mainly because you still have to acquire the server switch and gateways. It includes the same server switch and the same Ethernet and Fibre Channel gateways, but only includes a dozen host adapters and cables and a VFrame license for 12 server nodes. This half rack option costs $43,995. Customers have to provide their own servers and storage, obviously.
Stu Aaron, vice president of marketing at TopSpin, would not say how much of a discount this bundle offers to customers, other than to say that it was "significant." The VFrame software, which was announced in May, can provision and manage Linux and Windows clusters running on 32-bit and 64-bit X86 iron. It is, Aaron says, agnostic concerning both operating systems and applications. As is the case in other clustering environments, an array of TopSpin's InfiniBand switches can be cascaded to span hundreds or thousands of servers. Aaron says that the largest deployment to date is at Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec, which has 500 server nodes clustered using TopSpin's InfiniBand technology.
TopSpin is positioning its server switching technologies against Gigabit Ethernet, Myrinet, Quadrics, and other technologies, which have much higher latencies than InfiniBand. It is also targeting specialized server clusters from Egenera, which include sophisticated server provisioning software and a blade architecture in rack-sized computers. Aaron says that an Egenera system with 24 server Xeon blades, two control blades, two switches, and software licenses will cost around $1.5 million, but that using the full rack Grid to Go package from TopSpin plus 24 Dell PowerEdge 1750 servers will result in the same raw computing power and a lower latencies (the Egenera backplane runs at 1.25 Gbps, compared to 10 Gbps for InfiniBand). The TopSpin-Dell setup will also cost about $130,000.
Equally compelling, Aaron says, is the fact that using the server switch approach cuts down massively on the number of adapters that have to be plugged into clusters made from regular servers, which typically have redundant LAN and SAN adapters because of their low throughout. For a 150 node cluster, it can cost nearly $700,000 to buy enough LAN and SAN adapters (somewhere around 600 adapters) for a traditional Linux or Windows cluster, but using the InfiniBand Switch, that number can be cut to around 300 and the cost can also be cut in half to around $350,000. That's fewer wires and less money to get a faster cluster.