Posts Tagged 'CPU'

August 21, 2012

High Performance Computing - GPU v. CPU

Sometimes, technical conversations can sound like people are just making up tech-sounding words and acronyms: "If you want HPC to handle Gigaflops of computational operations, you probably need to supplement your server's CPU and RAM with a GPU or two." It's like hearing a shady auto mechanic talk about replacing gaskets on double overhead flange valves or hearing Chris Farley (in Tommy Boy) explain that he was "just checking the specs on the endline for the rotary girder" ... You don't know exactly what they're talking about, but you're pretty sure they're lying.

When we talk about high performance computing (HPC), a natural tendency is to go straight into technical specifications and acronyms, but that makes the learning curve steeper for people who are trying to understand why a solution is better suited for certain types of workloads than technology they are already familiar with. With that in mind, I thought I'd share a quick explanation of graphics processing units (GPUs) in the context of central processing units (CPUs).

The first thing that usually confuses people about GPUs is the name: "Why do I need a graphics processing unit on a server? I don't need to render the visual textures from Crysis on my database server ... A GPU is not going to benefit me." It's true that you don't need cutting-edge graphics on your server, but a GPU's power isn't limited to "graphics" operations. The "graphics" part of the name reflects the original intention for kind of processing GPUs perform, but in the last ten years or so, developers and engineers have come to adapt the processing power for more general-purpose computing power.

GPUs were designed in a highly parallel structure that allows large blocks of data to be processed at one time — similar computations are being made on data at the same time (rather than in order). If you assigned the task of rendering a 3D environment to a CPU, it would slow to a crawl — it handles requests more linearly. Because GPUs are better at performing repetitive tasks on large blocks of data than CPUs, you start see the benefit of enlisting a GPU in a server environment.

The Folding@home project and bitcoin mining are two of the most visible distributed computing projects that GPUs are accelerating, and they're perfect examples of workloads made exponentially faster with the parallel processing power of graphics processing units. You don't need to be folding protein or completing a blockchain to get the performance benefits, though; if you are taxing your CPUs with repetitive compute tasks, a GPU could make your life a lot easier.

If that still doesn't make sense, I'll turn the floor over to the Mythbusters in a presentation for our friends at NVIDIA:

SoftLayer uses NVIDIA Tesla GPUs in our high performance computing servers, so developers can use "Compute Unified Device Architecture" (CUDA) to easily take advantage of their GPU's capabilities.

Hopefully, this quick rundown is helpful in demystifying the "technobabble" about GPUs and HPC ... As a quick test, see if this sentence makes more sense now than it did when you started this blog: "If you want HPC to handle Gigaflops of computational operations, you probably need to supplement your server's CPU and RAM with a GPU or two."


January 26, 2012

Up Close and Personal: Intel Xeon E7-4850

Last year, we announced that we would be the first provider to offer the Intel E7-4800 series server. This bad boy has record-breaking compute power, tons of room for RAM and some pretty amazing performance numbers, and as of right now, it's one of the most powerful servers on the market.

Reading about the server and seeing it at the bottom of the "Quad Processor Multi-core Servers" list on our dedicated servers page is pretty interesting, but the real geeks want to see the nuts and bolts that make up such an amazing machine. I took a stroll down to the inventory room in our DAL05 data center in hopes that they had one of our E7-4850s available for a quick photo shoot to share with customers, and I was in luck.

The only way to truly admire a server is to put it through its paces in production, but getting to see a few pictures of the server might be a distance second.

Intel Xeon E7-4850

When you see the 2U face of the server in a rack, it's a little unassuming. You can load it up with six of our 3TB SATA hard drives for a total of 18TB of storage if you're looking for a ton of space, and if you're focused on phenomenal disk IO to go along with your unbelievable compute power, you can opt for SSDs. If you still need more space,can order a 4U version fill ten drive bays!

Intel Xeon E7-4850

The real stars of the show when it comes to the E7-4850 server are nestled right underneath these heatsinks. Each of the four processors has TEN cores @ 2.00GHz, so in this single box, you have a total of forty cores! I'm not sure how Moore's Law is going to keep up if this is the next step to jump from.

Intel Xeon E7-4850

With the abundance of CPU power, you'll probably want an abundance of RAM. Not coincidentally, we can install up to 512GB of RAM in this baby. It's pretty unbelievable to read the specs available in the decked-out version of this server, and it's even crazier to think that our servers going to get more and more powerful.

Intel Xeon E7-4850

With all of the processing power and RAM in this box, the case fans had to get a bit of an upgrade as well. To keep enough air circulating through the server, these three case fans pull air from the cold aisle in our data center, cool the running components and exhaust the air into the data center's "hot aisle."

Intel Xeon E7-4850

Because this machine could be used to find the last digit of pi or crunch numbers to find the cure for cancer, it's important to have redundancy ... In the picture above, you see the redundant power supplies that safeguard against a single point of failure when it comes to server power. In each of our data centers, we have N+1 power redundancy, so adding N+1 power redundancy into the server isn't very redundant at all ... It's almost expected!

If your next project requires a ton of processing power, a lot of room for RAM, and redundant power, this server is up for the challenge! Configure your own quad-proc ten-core beast of a machine in our shopping cart or contact our SLales team for a customized quote on one:

When you get done benchmarking it against your old infrastructure, let us know what you think!


July 25, 2011

Under the Hood of 'The Cloud'

When we designed the CloudLayer Computing platform, our goal was to create an offering where customers would be able to customize and build cloud computing instances that specifically meet their needs: If you go to our site, you're even presented with an opportunity to "Build Your Own Cloud." The idea was to let users choose where they wanted their instance to reside as well as their own perfect mix of processor power, RAM and storage. Today, we're taking the BYOC mantra one step farther by unveiling the local disk storage option for CloudLayer computing instances!

Local Disk

For those of you familiar with the CloudLayer platform, you might already understand the value of a local disk storage option, but for the uninitiated, this news presents a perfect opportunity to talk about the dynamics of the cloud and how we approach the cloud around here.

As the resident "tech guy" in my social circle, I often find myself helping friends and family understand everything from why their printer isn't working to what value they can get from the latest and greatest buzzed-about technology. As you'd probably guess, the majority of the questions I've been getting recently revolve around 'the cloud' (thanks especially to huge marketing campaigns out of Redmond and Cupertino). That abstract term effectively conveys the intentional sentiment that users shouldn't have to worry about the mechanics of how the cloud works ... just that it works. The problem is that as the world of technology has pursued that sentiment, the generalization of the cloud has abstracted it to the point where this is how large companies are depicting the cloud:


As it turns out, that image doesn't exactly illicit the, "Aha! Now I get it!" epiphany of users actually understanding how clouds (in the technology sense) work. See how I pluralized "clouds" in that last sentence? 'The Cloud' at SoftLayer isn't the same as 'The Cloud' in Redmond or 'The Cloud' in Cupertino. They may all be similar in the sense that each cloud technology incorporates hardware abstraction, on-demand scalability and utility billing, but they're not created in the same way.

If only there were a cloud-specific Declaration of Independence ...

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all clouds are not equal, that they are endowed by their creators with certain distinct characteristics, that among these are storage, processing power and the ability to serve content. That to secure these characteristics, information should be given to users, expressed clearly to meet the the cloud's users;

The Ability to Serve Content
Let's unpack that Jeffersonian statement a little by looking at the distinct characteristics of every cloud, starting with the third ("the ability to serve content") and working backwards. Every cloud lives on hardware. The extent to which a given cloud relies on that hardware can vary, but at the end of the day, you &nash; as a user – are not simply connecting to water droplets in the ether. I'll use SoftLayer's CloudLayer platform as a specific example of that a cloud actually looks like: We have racks of uniform servers – designated as part of our cloud infrastructure – installed in rows in our data centers. All of those servers are networked together, and we worked with our friends at Citrix to use the XenServer platform to tie all of those servers together and virtualize the resources (or more simply: to make each piece of hardware accessible independently of the rest of the physical server it might be built into). With that infrastructure as a foundation, ordering a cloud server on the CloudLayer platform simply involves reserving a small piece of that cloud where you can install your own operating system and manage it like an independent server or instance to serve your content.

Processing Power
Understanding the hardware architecture upon which a cloud is built, the second distinct characteristic of every cloud ("processing power") is fairly logical: The more powerful the hardware used for a given cloud, the better processing performance you'll get in an instance using a piece of that hardware.

You can argue about what software uses the least resources in the process of virtualizing, but apples-to-apples, processing power is going to be determined by the power of the underlying hardware. Some providers try to obfuscate the types of servers/processors available to their cloud users (sometimes because they are using legacy hardware that they wouldn't be able to sell/rent otherwise), but because we know how important consistent power is to users, we guarantee that CloudLayer instances are based on 2.0GHz (or faster) processors.

We walked backward through the distinct characteristics included in my cloud-specific Declaration of Independence because of today's CloudLayer Computing storage announcement, but before I get into the details of that new option, let's talk about storage in general.

If the primary goal of a cloud platform is to give users the ability to scale instantly from 1 CPU of power to 16 CPUs of power, the underlying architecture has to be as flexible as possible. Let's say your cloud computing instance resides on a server with only 10 CPUs available, so when you upgrade to a 16-CPU instance, your instance will be moved to a server with enough available resources to meet your need. To make that kind of quick change possible, most cloud platforms are connected to a SAN (storage area network) or other storage device via a back-end network to the cloud servers. The biggest pro of having this setup is that upgrading and downgrading CPU and RAM for a given cloud instance is relatively easy, but it introduces a challenge: The data lives on another device that is connected via switches and cables and is being used by other customers as well. Because your data has to be moved to your server to be processed when you call it, it's a little slower than if a hard disk was sitting in the same server as the instance's processor and RAM. For that reason, many users don't feel comfortable moving to the cloud.

In response to the call for better-performing storage, there has been a push toward incorporating local disk storage for cloud computing instances. Because local disk storage is physically available to the CPU and RAM, the transfer of data is almost immediate and I/O (input/output) rates are generally much higher. The obvious benefit of this setup is that the storage will perform much better for I/O-intensive applications, while the tradeoff is that the setup loses the inherent redundancy of having the data replicated across multiple drives in a SAN (which, is almost like its own cloud ... but I won't confuse you with that right now).

The CloudLayer Computing platform has always been built to take advantage of the immediate scalability enabled by storing files in a network storage device. We heard from users who want to use the cloud for other applications that they wanted us to incorporate another option, so today we're happy to announce the availability of local disk storage for CloudLayer Computing! We're looking forward to seeing how our customers are going to incorporate cloud computing instances with local disk storage into their existing environments with dedicated servers and cloud computing instances using SAN storage.

If you have questions about whether the SAN or local disk storage option would fit your application best, click the Live Chat icon on and consult with one of our sales reps about the benefits and trade-offs of each.

We want you to know exactly what you're getting from SoftLayer, so we try to be as transparent as we can when rolling out new products. If you have any questions about CloudLayer or any of our other offerings, please let us know!


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