Penguin Blade Server Takes A Stab At Entry-Level Clustering

Penguin Computing unveils its BladeRunner blade server, designed to provide a low-cost departmental clustering solution.
Penguin Computing took direct aim at the growing departmental cluster market last week, announcing a new, low-cost BladeRunner blade server running Scyld Beowulf open-source clustering software.

The server, dubbed the "Cluster-in-a-box," is designed to meet the needs of departmental users, carrying an entry level price of under $24,000 for 1 master node and 5 compute nodes. "The Cluster-in-a-Box package complements our already extensive cluster product line by making clustering a viable option for departmental HPC clustering applications and specialized research organizations who have to do more with smaller teams and limited support staff," Enrico Pesatori, chairman and CEO at San Francisco-based Penguin Computing said.

Chris Willard, an IDC analyst who follows the HPC market, says the departmental cluster market does not get as much hype as larger scale cluster systems. Yet for the technical market, Willard said systems under $250,000 accounted for 46 percent of total blade server sales last year, a number he expects to reach 50 percent this year.

"It is sort of a case that the [smaller] systems don't get a lot of fanfare, but average sort of throughput technical servers get bought a lot. [Larger systems] get into the press because they are different and produce big numbers," Willard said. "The bottom line for Penguin is that the departmental market is a healthy market to sell into."

Willard says the new BladeRunner product addresses two main concerns of buyers in this market: environmentally friendly designs (meaning they are scalable and take up less space) and preconfigured systems.

The BladeRunner servers support 12 dual-processor blades in a 4U chassis, and they can be configured in a 42U rack with 240 processors. An integrated switch further reduces space and cabling requirements, and the design includes powerful low-voltage Intel Xeon CPUs, which reduce the cost of cooling large server farms..

In addition, Penguin is shipping the BladeRunners servers with their Scyld Beowulf Linux clustering software pre-installed. According to Phil Pokorny, Penguin Computing's director of engineering, Scyld Beowulf provides a way for departments to manage these clusters more easily. "Scyld Beowulf is especially good for blades because of our ability to boot diskless, to do rapid light-weight provisioning, and the single system image we provide to the user. Scyld Beowulf Linux on our blade servers show off all of the strengths of that software platform," Pokorny said

Willard said this level of management should appeal to departments that are looking for a pre-configured out-of-the-box solution. "As clusters move forward in technical markets, there is a tendency for the next class of users to be less interested in build-it-yourself systems and to be looking more for companies to come in and provide complete tested solutions for them," he stated.

Penguin has also dealt with the environmental issues by building a system that can deal with scalability and space issues. "Particularly in lower end markets, there is an issue between the number of processors or nodes you can put in a room and amount of power and cooling room designed for. Not all users have these problems, but those that do will appreciate systems that take into consideration the environmental factors they have to start off with," Willard said.

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