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Intel rolls out cables, spec for clusters

Posted: 29 Jun 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Intel cables? optical cables? computer cluster? clustering software?

Intel Corp. has developed a new class of optical cables and system specification geared towards boosting the growth of computer clusters that use its x86 processors.

The Intel Connects Cables aim to replace today's 24-gauge copper cables with an optical alternative that opens the door to larger clusters that are easier to cool. The Intel cables are designed to support 20Gbps for today's Infiniband-based clusters and have a reach of 100m compared to about 10m for similar copper cables.

Today's clusters typically are limited to 1,000 CPUs due to the 10m range of the copper cables. The optical cables "will allow clusters to get much larger," said Tom Willis, general manager of the Intel product. "With 100m cables you can extend clusters to tens of thousands of CPUs across multiple floors of a building," he added.

The Intel cables integrate the company's optical transceivers directly into their connectors. The cables are also 84 percent lighter, 83 percent smaller and have lower BERs and conversion latencies than the copper alternative. The smaller size helps support better airflow and thus easier cooling for servers.

Clusters require "massive amounts of cabling," said Willis. "When you need a thousand cables, that's a lot of weight and a lot of blocked airflow in and around systems," he added.

At the International Supercomputing Conference 2007 in Dresden from June 26-29, a handful of companies will demonstrate a large cluster using the new Intel cables. They include Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Mellanox Technologies Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Willis said that at short distances, the new optical cables carry an undisclosed premium over 24-gauge copper. They will be the same price at longer distances.

The copper cables typically list for about $160 for 10m. Intel's optical cables will be in production before yearend.

Infiniband chipmaker Mellanox has said it will roll out silicon for 40Gbps links, perhaps before the end of the year. Willis said Intel would provide cables to handle those data rates once the technology is widely deployed.

Separately, Intel is announcing a specification that defines a basic configuration for a cluster as an aid to help relatively small end users verify and deploy the systems. For its part, Intel will define systems platforms that comply with the spec and use its server processors and chipsets. It is also rolling out an upgrade of its clustering software toolkit that now supports Windows as well as Linux.

The so-called Intel Cluster-Ready spec defines a set of hardware and software features ranging from details about switch fabrics and storage to OS services such as authentication, resource management and software provisioning.

Intel is courting software and systems developers to ship products complaint with its new Cluster-Ready program. So far only a handful of companies have signed up, including major computer makers Dell Inc. and Silicon Graphics Inc. and smaller cluster specialists including Ansys Inc., Platform Computing Inc. and Transtec Computers Ltd.

"We are just getting started with this program," said Herbert Cornelius, director of Intel's advanced computing center.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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