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T-Platforms: Russian Big Iron

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GTC Video Blog One of the most interesting hardware designs at the 2010 GPU Tech Conference came out of Russia – Moscow, to be specific. T-Platforms has engineered the traditional blade and associated heat dissipation hardware in a way that allows far more gear to be placed in a standard rack.

A 7U rack can hold up to 16 blades – each of which has two quad-core, low-voltage Intel processors, up to 24GB of memory, plus Ethernet and two Infiniband ports. Oh, and you can attach two NVIDIA Fermi GPU cards onto the board without reducing density or causing the whole thing to melt into a puddle of greenish goo.

Our pal Timothy Prickett Morgan has some good pictures in his story here, and I’ve captured some good shots of the board in the video accompanying this story.

With their design, they’ve stripped away the support framework that typically surrounds blade boards. The rails on which the blade slides in and out of the enclosure, and the motherboard support needed to ensure proper rigidity, are all provided by the very large (but thin) heat sink that attaches to the board. In addition to getting rid of heat, it also serves as an EMI shield.

In the video, we take a closer look at their system as our new friend Alexi gives us the rundown. He also shows us how the Fermi cards fit onto the system and discusses how their design has been tweaked to become a “bandwidth baby”.

They have a separate Northbridge supporting the two Gen2 PCIe x16 GPU slots to ensure that they are properly fed. Rounding out the I/O story is a gigabit Ethernet port and two 40 Gb/sec Infiniband ports.

Alexi talked about how their box should top competitors in terms of flops per watt, flops per square foot, and other measures. He also touched on some of the software they’ve included for workload and system management. This system is clearly aimed at the high end of HPC, and they’ve already nailed down the #15 position on the Top 500 list with their system at Moscow State University.

It’s going to be interesting to see how successful T-Platforms is in its quest to expand to the US and Western Europe. They’re actively looking for partners to help carry sales and service to new regions. Their powerful design enables big configurations and performance, but it’s also thrifty in terms of acquisition price, power consumption, and floor tiles. What’s not to like?

It seems like T-Platforms would be a natural choice for a second-tier HPC vendor. It would give them significant differentiation on the high end against the big guys and probably pretty good margins to boot. But there are potential problems inherent in that differentiation.

The custom design that yields such coolness can also be the source of service and supply chain woes. However, the fact that T-Platforms has been around since 2002 and has more than 200 installations proves that it's established at least reasonably stable partner relationships and parts sourcing.

We’ll check back in with T-Platforms at SC10 in November to see if there is any news on sales partners or expansion plans. I hope that they bring at least a system rack to the show; I’d like to see how it all fits together. ®

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