IBM Gives Cell-Based Blade Server An Upgrade

Throughput is much faster and the blade is redesigned to fit more comfortably in a blade chassis.

IBM has updated its Cell BladeCenter server, changing just about everything but the processor to improve performance. The company also released a major upgrade to its multi-core development kit.

IBM's (Quote) BladeCenter QS21 is an update to the QS20, which shipped at the beginning of the year. It's powered by the Cell Broadband Engine (Cell/B.E.), the chip derived from IBM's POWER processor used in Sony's PlayStation 3.

For the QS21, IBM greatly increased performance without touching the CPU. It has doubled the memory, density and I/O throughput and enhanced the power efficiency of the blade. IBM has also added an additional two gigabytes of I/O buffer memory for up to 16 lanes of single data rate Infiniband networking.

At the same time, it's been re-architected to fit in a standard IBM chassis. The old version was a "double wide," so it took up twice as much space as a standard blade. Now, the card is much smaller, allowing for twice as many cards to fit in the chassis as before, 14 cards instead of seven.

The blade needed this redesign, said Clay Ryder, president of The Sageza Group. "The old design kinda limited them," he told "If you wanted to stick one blade in a chassis, you could live with it. But if you wanted to go to town and had to buy 2 chassis because they could only be half-filled, that was a problem.

IBM sees the BladeCenter QS21 as an application accelerator for very specific, compute-intensive tasks. In certain tasks, the Cell B/E processor flattens its competition, such as 3D and graphics rendering. A BladeCenter QS21 can reach 6.4 teraFLOPS in a single chassis and over 25.8 teraFLOPS in a standard 42U rack.

"Since Cell is focused on workload optimization, not everything in a customer's environment has a need to be fully accelerated. So what we want to do is let them off-load time-sensitive apps onto the BladeCenter," said Paula Richards, IBM's product-line manager for Cell systems and solutions.

Applications like financial modeling or medical imaging might be running on x86 or POWER-based systems. But for maximum processing power, they can be tossed over to a BladeCenter, which can chew through the numbers much faster. IBM's two areas of focus with the BladeCenter are real-time analytics and digital imaging.

"This thing is a speed demon for the kind of immersive 3D apps and encryption and some other apps they are talking about," said Charles King, principle analyst with Pund-IT. "Speed is really the essence for them to be able to do real-time processing or be real darn close to it."

IBM has also released a new software development kit for the Cell called Multicore Acceleration 3.0. The company regularly updates the kit as it learns new tricks from the workloads being run on the Cell. But for this update, IBM performed a major overhaul.

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