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Making big ones out of small ones: 3Leaf

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The wheel is turning full circle. In the 1980s and 1990s, the HPC crowd pioneered scale-out processing and advanced parallelism in response to cost and scalability limitations imposed by the shared-everything systems of the day, ushering in an era where huge numbers of small computers were harnessed to solve large-scale problems.

Now we’re seeing new technology that allows users to join these small servers together to present a single system image and large memory space. Fast Infiniband connections are taking the place of custom-designed system buses and crossbars to provide system coherency at a much lower cost.

This new model for large system images is more flexible than most of the old-school SMP servers, allowing users to deploy different configurations quickly and easily. Users can boot up a single o/s image spanning, for instance, 12 out of 16 servers. This would provide a large, single shared memory system to handle a workload that lacks the parallelism to run efficiently on scale-out. Later, the system can be deconstructed back into the 16 individual servers.

This technology will certainly be useful,but it isn’t a panacea. It probably won’t work very well on OLTP workloads or other commercial transactional applications. To us, it seems like the best fit is for apps that are memory-starved, or those that are difficult to parallelize. We also increasingly foresee a need for ‘unbalanced’ systems that can throw radically different amounts of processor, I/O, or memory to match unique workload needs.

Different computing problems have quite different needs – some will become processor-bound, while others hit bottlenecks in memory or I/O. The standard ‘balanced’ x86 system isn’t offered in enough flavors to match each and every workload need, and non-x86 systems that have the capacity to provide massive amounts of resource also require massive expenditures. The easiest way to get around the limitations inherent in x86 systems is to allow them to be used as building blocks for larger boxes.

To learn more about this new technology, we talked to BV Jagadeesh, CEO and President of 3Leaf Systems. 3Leaf is a new entrant into the market, offering an innovative hardware ASIC which, according to BV, ties distributed systems together with a fast, low-latency Infiniband-based circulatory system. To see a short video of this interview, click here.

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