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Super Micro gets dense with blades

Twins are hot - servers, that is

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IDF Motherboard and server maker Super Micro Computer is showing off a new double-density blade server that's based on its Twin family of half-width (not half-wit) motherboards, and is bragging that it has industry-leading density - and that's meant to be a good thing, not the kind your boss succumbs to.

The new box is member of the SuperBlade family of blade servers and chassis, and this particular double-density model is going to be called the TwinBlade. It joins two other Twin servers, a 1U rack-mounted model that puts two half-width motherboards side by side in a single server case (which debuted a year ago), and the Twin2, which puts four of these boards on trays and slides them into a 2U rack chassis complete with disks and power supplies for the whole lot. (El Reg told you all about the Twin2 machines here.)

The TwinBlade that Super Micro is demonstrating this week at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco takes a bunch of these half-width server boards, tips them up on their sides, and wraps them in a blade shell with a blade midplane, cramming 20 half-height, two-socket servers into a 7U blade chassis. This is a blade chassis that up until now has been able to hold only 10 full-height blade servers. That's double the processing density, and more importantly is more density than the Twin and Twin2 rack servers offer. Those two machines give you a server in 0.5 units of rack capacity, while the TwinBlade squeezes it down to 0.35 rack units per server. With the TwinBlade, you can get a total of 240 quad-core Xeon 5500 processors into a 42U standard server rack, for a total of 960 cores.

Super Micro Twin Servers

Super Micro's Twin, Twin2, and TwinBlade (Click to Enlarge)

By the way, that core density is not as high as what HP delivered in May 2008 with the Harpertown Xeon 5400 processors on the ProLiant BLx220c G5 blade server and its c7000 BladeSystem enclosure, which weighs in at 10U. The BLx220c G5 blade packed two whole two-socket Xeon 5400 servers onto a single full-height blade, and the chassis could house 16 blades, for a total of 32 server nodes per chassis. That works out to a slightly lower node density of 0.31 rack units per server node. HP can put four c7000s of these in a rack, with 2U of space to spare, for a total of 1,024 cores. While this was good enough for 2008, the Harpertown processors have about half the oomph and about a third to a quarter of the memory bandwidth of Nehalem EP Xeon 5500 processors, so in terms of performance, the Super Micro TwinBlade would smoke the HP double-blade ProLiant setup. The wonder is why HP has not put out a G6 version of its own two-node blade yet with low-wattage Xeon 5500 parts.

IBM has a two-node Xeon 5500 setup for its iDataplex dx360 M2, which comes in a 2U rack chassis. But the iDataplex boxes use non-standard racks that feature half-depth servers, so making direct comparisons with the density of the Super Micro TwinBlade and HP ProLiant BLx220c G5 is tricky. It is safe to say that it's in the same ballpark in terms of server nodes per rack unit of space, once you go on the third dimension.

Super Micro is also showing off some storage tweaks on the rack-based Twin machines at IDF. The 2U Twin machine now supports six hot-swap 3.5-inch disks, and the Twin2 setup in the 2U chassis with the trays for the four server nodes can now support six hot-swap 2.5-inch disk drives, all of them shared by the four nodes in the rack unit.

At press time, Super Micro was unable to say what the new TwinBlade setup would cost or when it would be available. ®

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