[Beowulf] Re: MS Cray

Gus Correa gus at ldeo.columbia.edu
Thu Sep 18 10:56:01 PDT 2008

Hi Mark and list

Mark Hahn wrote:

> http://www.cray.com/Products/CX1/Product/Specifications.aspx
> claims 1600W, 92% efficient.  their pages don't give much info on the 
> engineering of the blades, though.  given that you have to add ipmi
> as an option card, it looks pretty close to commodity parts to me.

Note that for the fully populated enclosure the power supplies are dual, 
2* 1600W = 3200W.
See my posting:

3200W makes sense if you have 64 Xeon cores inside,
and matches also RGB's precise guesstimate of 3kW.
(It is always prudent to have any computer marketing blurb distilled and 
by a bona fide physicist.)

Indeed, the Cray CX1 promotional materials don't say much about which
value Cray added to the hardware, and not to the software either, for 
that matter.
It looks like just as a nicely packed set of blade servers,
of which there are so many others out there.

The article/interview on HPC Wire has several interesting points raised by
Cray's senior VP of sales and marketing:

For instance:

** Number 1) "It's designed to run on standard 110 volt office power,
and doesn't require additional cooling. It can sit under your desk, 
right where you work."

110V, but how many Amperes? 
Does a typical office electrical installation support this?  ( I can't 
avoid a grin  :)  )

As for the cooling requirements, please see RGB's humorous but very 
sharp and to the point posting.


** Number 2) "Second, we've tried to lower the bar in terms of the 
talent required to deploy one of these at a customer site. In terms of 
infrastructure, the CX1 will just drop into a standard office 
environment. The operating system and tools will be very familiar to 
Linux or Windows users,"

Questions (same RGB asked):
What environmental conditions should such an office have?
1.5ton A/C?
4kW  capable wiring?
Beer keg refrigerator?
How many air vent and drip holes on the walls, ceiling and windows?

Somebody already commented about:

"we've tried to lower the bar in terms of the talent required to deploy 
one of these at a customer site"

However, my feeling is that teaching 101 courses in Unix/Linux proficiency
(directory tree, command redirection, etc), Unix programming environment 
(make, etc),
and Unix tools (vi or emacs, sed, awk, basic shell scripting, etc),
for science and engineering students would increase the "talent required"
at a much lower cost and with much higher benefits than buying Windows 
deskside supercomputers.
Who would need a Windows based HPC then?
To entice the freshmen students, RGB could give a few cool special 
lectures about Turing machines,
cellular automata, etc, on these 101 classes.
This would pay off much better than teaching C and C++  (say, with 
Visual Studio) to freshmen,
would give them a background to use Unix/Linux machines effectively,
and would prepare them to go beyond Matlab and Windows.
Programming languages could be 201 or higher level courses.


*** Number 3) "Finally, the CX1 starts at just $25,000, with fully 
configured systems reaching the $80,000 range. The system is very 
affordable in terms of both the initial capital investment and the 
lowered total cost of ownership customers will see from ease of 
management and standard office power and cooling requirements."

How many blades and cores come in the $25k configuration?  (I  will 
answer: One blade, just like a
dual-socked quad-core workstation that you can buy for $5k or less.)
How "affordable" an investment you need to make install it in your 
office?  (See RGB's posting for the answers.)


**** Number 4) "We believe that there are many workstation users today 
who are used to working in a Windows environment and find the thought of 
moving to a more powerful platform like an HPC cluster and the challenge 
of learning a new operating system daunting. By offering an operating 
system that they are familiar with, we believe the barriers to adoption 
are significantly lowered. "

The system seems to be a regular cluster, nicely packed, and perhaps 
with an easy setup procedure.
The main attraction is that it can run Windows, for those who are afraid 
of Linux.
Other attractions are the nice looking enclosure and the brand name, 
that make it an object of desire.


The problem with unsubstantiated statements like these on the HPC Wire 
is that they catch the attention of decision makers (Deans, department 
as someone mentioned here), and you may have a hard time to distill and 
deconstruct them.
Unless the decision maker has a background or a very good guts felling 
for computers and
the underlying physics/engineering, the shiny brochures, the movies,
and the big brand names can really make a dent.

I had to write a long explanation, going down to details very similar to 
those RGB raised here
(but not with the same sharp humor), to justify buying a cluster as 
opposed to  a
"turnkey" solution  akin to this "deskside supercomputer" just two weeks 
I went through the same arguments that RGB used here: 
environmental issues (power, A/C, floor space), TCO,
sys admin and maintenance,  pros and cons of COTS vs. proprietary HW and 
SW, etc.
I won, but now I'll probably have to "dejavu it all over again",
when people here learn about the CX1.

If my boss was not knowledgeable in Physics and computing,
I would have to invite RGB to come here to give my boss a briefing.
And to recommend buying a beer keg refrigerator along with a cluster, of 

Gus Correa

Gustavo J. Ponce Correa, PhD - Email: gus at ldeo.columbia.edu
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory - Columbia University
P.O. Box 1000 [61 Route 9W] - Palisades, NY, 10964-8000 - USA

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