IBM Finally Launches Opteron Blade Servers
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
After being badgered about its lack of support for the Opteron processor in its BladeCenter blade server product line for the past two years, IBM has finally relented and admitted that maybe there is a place for the Opteron in its blade servers after all. IBM already sells blades based on the Intel Xeon processors for Linux and Windows and, and blades based on its own PowerPC 970 for AIX and Linux, but the Opteron is something that can deliver significant price-performance and flops-watt advantages for many workloads compared to these two processors.
The new blade, called the LS20, is a two-socket symmetric multiprocessor, just like the Xeon-based HS20 and the PowerPC-based JS20. (IBM also sells a four-socket blade, called the HS40.) All of these blade servers can plug into the same BladeCenter chassis and make use of the same I/O backplane and network switches and SAN adapters. The LS20 is currently being shipped with two processors, a 2 GHz Opteron 846 and a 2 GHz Opteron 846 low-power version of the processor; which only draws 68 watts compared to the 95 watts of the regular Opteron. In a base configuration, with a single Opteron 846 processor and 512 MB of main memory (with no disk), the LS20 costs $2,259; upgrading to the low-power version of the Opteron costs an additional $999.
A few weeks ago, IBM's Web site said that it would ship a 2.4 GHz Opteron 250 low-watt chip in the blades for $2,699, but in the time between preselling the product and actually launching it today, IBM seems to have changed its mind and charged a much bigger premium for the low-heat Opteron and backed off on the clock speed. Anyway, the new blade has four DIMM memory slots, with capacities ranging from 512 MB to 8 GB; up to two Ultra320 disks can be attached to each blade. Linuxes from Red Hat and Novell are supported on the blades, as well as Microsoft Windows Server 2003.
Presumably the LS20 blades will support the dual-core Opteron 265, 270, and 275 processors that Advanced Micro Devices pre-announced in April. These dual-core Opterons run at 1.8 GHz, 2 GHz, and 2.2 GHz clock speeds, and offer anywhere between 30 and 75 percent better performance than slightly faster single-core Opterons, depending of course on the workload. If IBM waited this long to launch the Opteron blades, it is a bit peculiar, in fact, that it didn't launch these machines with the dual-core chips, which were supposed to start shipping in late May.
Bob Leonard, director of Linux clusters at IBM, says that IBM is also altering its eServer 1350 preconfigured clusters (which are called bright clusters in the industry) so they can make clusters of the Opteron blade servers. "Our customers in the HPC arena like Opteron performance," he explains. "By taking the Opteron blades and putting them into eServer 1350 configurations, customers can attack their heating and cooling issues." As to why more companies facing intense heating issues are not spending the extra bucks to get Opteron HE or EE processors (which consume about half to a third of the electricity), Leonard said it comes down to money. "Some customers have champagne tastes, but they also have beer budgets." AMD is charging a pretty hefty premium for the low-heat versions of its chips. As clusters go more commercial, these heating issues will be more of an issue. The academic and research institutions that were the early adopters of Linux clusters just care about flops in the boxes, but companies care about all the environmental costs and they tend to balance flops against power and cooling costs.
In addition to the Opteron blade support in the bright clusters, IBM is also adding a slew of new interconnections, including InfiniBand interconnect from Voltaire, the latest network gear from Myricom (which can scale to over 4,000 nodes), as well as some low-cost Gigabit Ethernet switches from various suppliers.