Fujitsu goes dense with Nehalem blades
It's a dynamic cube
Server maker Fujitsu this morning took the wraps off a new generation of half-height blade servers and a new blade chassis. Collectively, they're known as the Dynamic Cube, but they'll be sold by the more boring (yet more easily trademarked) name: the Primergy BX900 S1.
Like the latest blade server chassis designs from Hewlett-Packard and Dell, the BX900 S1 is a double-decker chassis that stacks two lines of half-height blade servers into the box, along with switches, power supplies, fans, and other infrastructure. Density is always an issue among blade server makers. That was one of the key selling points when blades came out at the turn of the century. But compute density cuts both ways because density also means you need to supply 20 kilowatts or more of juice to a single rack and then remove most of that juice as heat.
Among the tier one server makers, Fujitsu's new Dynamic Cube blade chassis has bragging rights in terms of density, with up to 18 half-height blades in a 10U chassis. The chassis will eventually support full-height blades, but they were not announced today. Hewlett-Packard's c7000 blade enclosure is also 10U high and supports 16 half-height (two-socket designs) or 8 full height (usually for quad-socket designs) blades. Dell's latest blade enclosure, the M1000e, also packs 16 half-height blades into a 10U space, and IBM's BladeCenter H chassis packs 14 full-height blades into a 9U chassis.
Using the latest quad-core "Nehalem EP" Xeon 5500 processors, launched in late March , Fujitsu can get 14.4 cores per 1U of rack space with the Primergy BX900, compared to 12.98 cores per 1U for HP and Dell and 11.2 per 1U for IBM. (Big Blue has a 7U BladeCenter E low-energy chassis that sports 14 blades, but they have to be relatively low-powered chips to get up to the 16 cores per 1U compute density that IBM is offering with this variant).
According to Joe Duran, product manager for the Primergy server business at the United Kingdom unit Fujitsu Technology Solutions, the design goal with the Dynamic Cube blade servers was not just density but increasing airflow to cool the blades, while at the same time reducing the amount of energy that the cooling systems use and the blades consume as they do their work.
FTS comprises the Fujitsu and Siemens server units that Fujitsu took whole ownership of in Europe  on the same day Intel launched the Nehalem EPs. While Fujitsu added Nehalem EPs to its six-year-old Primergy BX600 blade chassis - which packs 10 half-height or five full-height blades in a 7U chassis - the new BX900 S1 chassis is really a whole new box, tuned to take advantage of the energy efficiency and virtualization features inside the Nehalem EP chips and their associated chipsets.
The BX900 S1 chassis has a new high-speed midplane that has four redundant fabrics for linking the blades to the redundant management processors in the chassis. This chassis has 6.4 Gb/sec of aggregate I/O bandwidth and six power supply/fan modules in the back as well as eight I/O connection blades. (Each power supply has two fans). One key difference that Fujitsu is highlighting with the BX900 S1 is that it is using power supplies with 90 per cent or higher efficiency and that the machine is actually designed to work under full load.
"Customers are hitting 75 to 80 per cent utilization these days," says Duran, thanks in large part to the virtualization and consolidation of server workloads. "So you have to make sure these machines can actually handle such loads in practice, not just in theory."
Duran says that HP's 16-blade c-Class chassis will draw about 5.5 kilowatts when loaded up with Nehalem EP chips, but that an 18-blade configuration from Fujitsu using the same processor and memory on the blades will draw just under 5kw of juice. That's about a 10 per cent reduction in power consumed for 12.5 per cent more computing delivered. The more efficient power supply is key, but so is opening up the fronts of the blades to let air in.
Duran says that 39 per cent of the surface area of the front of the BX900 S1 chassis is open for sucking in air, compared to as low as 18 per cent for some other blade server designs. More air intake means that Fujitsu can use larger fans and spin them more slowly, which radically drops the amount of energy it takes to cool the box and cuts back on noise.
The HP c7000 chassis moves about 300 cubic feet of air per minute through the chassis, according to Duran, and it is whipping through the box at 87 miles per hour. The BX900 S1 chassis can move 500 cubic feet of air per minute through the chassis, and to keep those 18 blades and their switches cool only requires the air to be moving at 53 miles per hour.
Fujitsu's homegrown ServerView system management tools can lash up to four BX900 S1 chassis together into a single management domain, putting a total of 72 blades - or 576 Nehalem processor cores - under the control of a single toolset. And Fujitsu's virtualized I/O for blades - called Virtual I/O Manager, or VIOM for short and akin to HP's virtual connect for server and storage networks - also can span across four chassis.
Eventually, according to Duran, the high availability clustering features of ServerView, called Resource Coordinator, will be tweaked to allow orchestration of workloads and processor, memory, and I/O capacity across the four chassis in a single rack. This capability is expected in the first quarter of 2010.
Along with the new BX900 S1 chassis that Fujitsu debuted today, there are two new blade servers: the BX920 S1 compute blade and the SX940 S1 storage blade.
Who's been left off the support list?
The BX920 S1 compute blade is a two-socket, half-height server that supports the quad-core Nehalem EPs 60 watt, 80 watt, and 95 watt variants (but not the 130 watt top-end part). These chips include quad-core Nehalems running at between 2 GHz and 2.93 GHz as well as the dual-core E5502, which is the entry chip in the Nehalem lineup.
The BX920 S1 blade is based on Intel's "Tylersburg" 5520 chipset, just like all the other Nehalem EP gear out there, and sports only nine DDR3 memory slots - six on the first CPU socket and three on the second CPU socket. So we can now see where Fujitsu has cut to get that extra density, with only 72 GB of maximum main memory on the BX920 S1 blade compared to HP's BL280c and BL460c Nehalem blades, which pack 96 GB of memory onto the blade using 8 GB DIMMs.
The BX920 S1 blade has integrated SATA and SAS RAID controllers, two 2.5-inch drive bays (which can sport 36 GB, 73 GB, and 146 GB drives today and 300 GB drives starting in June on the SAS side as well as 120 GB drives and solid state disks on the SATA side), two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and two mezzanine card slots (PCI-Express 2.0 x8 slots, to be precise) that can be used to, among other things, link out to InfiniBand switches. (The BX900 chassis is the first Fujitsu blade server to support InfiniBand, which the BX600 did not).
Microsoft's Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008, Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10, and Red Hat's Enterprise Linux 5 have been certified to run on the blade, as have been VMware's ESX Server 3.5 and 4.0 hypervisors. Fujitsu says it will support other Linuxes "on demand," so if you want Ubuntu, you can ask for it. Solaris 10 is mysteriously missing from the support list.
What is also missing from the support list is Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processors within the new Primergy BX900 series of blade servers, and Duran says there are no plans right now to support Opterons in the BX900 lineup. Fujitsu did eventually support Opterons in the BX600 blade machines in the dual-core Opteon generation a few years back, but has not been updating for quad-core "Barcelona" or "Shanghai" chips.
While Fujitsu is not announcing a high-end blade today, Duran said that a four-socket blade based on Intel's forthcoming "Nehalem EX" eight-core beast , presumably to be sold as the Xeon 7500, will be available in the first quarter of 2010. The Nehalem EX blade will be called the BX960 S1, and its salient features are not being provided now. But it stands to reason that it will be a full-height blade with lots of DDR3 memory slots, with probably up to 192 GB of memory per blade if Fujitsu doesn't have to cut back on memory to jam nine blades into the BX900 S1 chassis.
The other blade that was announced by Fujitsu today was the SX940 S1, a storage blade that puts four 2.5-inch SAS drives into the same space as a BX920 S1 blade. It is designed to be directly attached to the BX920 S1 blade, but includes its own RAID disk controller sporting RAID 1, 5, and 6 data protection. With 300 GB SAS drives available in June, Fujitsu will be able to get 1.2 TB of capacity into one of these blades. Because of power constraints, the BX900 S1 chassis can support a maximum of six SX940 S1 storage blades.
Blade servers are not just about serving and storing. They also have integrated switching. Fujitsu is rolling out its own 36-port Gigabit Ethernet switch as well as an 18-port Fibre Channel switch (a re-badged Brocade 5450) that links out to eight SANs. Up to eight of the Ethernet swiches and four of the Fibre Channel switches can be plugged into the chassis.
Fujitsu is also reselling InfiniBand switches made by Mellanox for the NX900 S1 chassis, but the feeds and speeds of these switches were not available at press time.
As for Fibre Channel-over-Ethernet converged switches, Fujitsu has a plan but is not ready to talk products yet. "FCoE is interesting, and every vendor is talking about it," says Duran. "But while the technology is plausible to use today, a lot of vendors are not going to be able to use it until it consumes less power. It will be later in the year, when the technology is improved, when you will see an FCoE offering from Fujitsu for blades."
The blades and the chassis for the Dynamic Cube are all available starting today in Europe, North America, and Asia. In the United Kingdom, the BX900 S1 chassis has a £5,106 list price, and a BX920 S1 blade without anything on it lists for £1,051. Adding in two dual-core Nehalem chips, 4 GB of memory, and two 73 GB SAS drives boosts the price of the blade to £2,455.
The SX940 S1 storage blade costs £2,383 with four 146 GB disks and the RAID 5/6 controller slapped into it. ®