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PathScale promises major Opteron cluster boost

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SC05 PathScale may well be the trendiest company in the server market. It has bet on Linux clusters, Opteron and Infiniband. And its technology sits at the intersection of these three popular and growing segments of the hardware industry.

Up to this point, PathScale has relied on sales of its EKOPath compiler suite to stay afloat. The compilers are reworked versions of the Linux on Itanium code SGI open sourced. PathScale has tuned the compilers for 64-bit x86 chips and AMD's Opteron in particular.

In the Opteron market, customers have relatively few compiler choices. They can pick up the open source GCC compiler, Intel's Xeon/Opteron compilers, PGI's products, Sun Studio 10 or PathScale code. So far, 450 customers have gone with PathScale, and the company reckons it has the highest performing tools.

"Compilers aren't hugely profitable, but they are of strategic importance to us," said Len Rosenthal, a vice president of PathScale, in an interview here at the Supercomputing conference. "They give us access to the national labs, major universities and enterprises."

Interesting as compilers are, PathScale's real boom or bust product is the InfiniPath HTX Adapter for improving the performance of clusters heavy on Opteron and Infiniband. Companies such as Linux Networx have placed InfiniPath chips right on their server boards. Others, however, will pick up the separate adapter.

PathScale plans to release a half-height adapter within 30 days, which will be small enough to fit vertically in 2U servers. The product will sell for $795 – down from $895 for the current full-size product.

PathScale's major claim to fame is that InfiniPath reduces latency issues in larger Infiniband clusters in a pretty dramatic fashion. The company has benchmarked the hell out of the product, showing us sheet after sheet of results. You can find a condensed version of the data here. Of real note is the 1.32 microseconds for MPI latency.

Industry watchers know that after a slow start Infiniband has taken off in the last year with the high performance computing crowd flocking to the interconnect. But while Infiniband provides solid bandwidth, it has continued to suffer from latency issues.

"As you scale and build larger clusters, the latencies get worse," Rosenthal said. "So, the larger the cluster, the bigger the advantage you see with PathScale."

Mellanox delivers competing gear and has one advantage in that it can play in the PCI-Express/Xeon server world too. PathScale's product currently plugs right into Hypertransport slots on Opteron-based servers only. In the first quarter of next year, Pathscale will fix this by delivering a PCI-Express product but thinks latencies will come in around 1.67 microseconds because of limitations in PCI-Express versus AMD's technology.

Also coming early next year is the OptiPath MPI (message passing interface) tools package.

"One of the problems with MPI is that you need a doctorate in computer science to program in MPI," Rosenthal said. "This will make writing MPI applications much easier."

Scientists have often come to find that they must craft their own applications to run on clusters, requiring them to dabble in computer science along with their traditional fields. "The PathScale OptiPath MPI Acceleration Tools guide both MPI experts and scientists to the root causes of critical performance problems and direct them to proposed solutions. . . . OptiPath will dramatically improve time-to-results for scientists, researchers and engineers," PathScale said.

PathScale joins a growing list of companies that have centered their product attacks around Opteron-based Linux clusters. Without doubt, it has some high-performing gear that will likely gain a more significant place in the server market. Still, it's dependent on Infiniband's place in the HPC realm for better or for worse. ®

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