|By Pat Meier-Johnson||
|July 21, 2012 12:00 PM EDT||
The Next Blade Revolution Begins
Open platforms have always meant more cost savings and greater flexibility in business computing. In the ‘80s, proprietary desktops gave way to clones, and the ‘90s saw proprietary servers and workstations dissolve into off-the-shelf x86 architectures. Today, a handful of "big iron" vendors own the blade market with their proprietary enclosures and restrictive designs...and history is about to repeat itself.
Change in the Wind
In 1978, Anthony Watts was a Purdue-trained TV meteorologist with a background in electrical engineering. By 1985, when Willard Scott was in his prime, Watts invented the first NTSC broadcast encoder for the IBM PC for use in television weather broadcasts. Not content with the then-blazing 6 MHz of IBM AT machines, which could take up to ten minutes to render a single frame, Watts modded the computers with a custom cooling design, allowing them to double their stock speeds, and started using them for processing weather graphics data. His company, IntelliWeather, soon created some of the first-ever PC-based broadcast TV weather systems, and a decade later, he was supplying weather graphics and display solutions to CBS News as well as TV stations around the USA
Over nearly two decades of innovation, IntelliWeather progressed from 16-color displays to today's full-color HD. Whereas it once took minutes to render a frame, today's 30 fps output is done in nearly real-time. The incoming streams of data from NOAA satellite feeds are massive enough to fill eight T1 lines every second. Not surprisingly, it takes a lot of computing power to render so much raw data into forms that broadcasters and scientists can use.
IntelliWeather has its own server farm, and each server tends to have its own job. Some do pre-processing, some render, and so on. The workflow is linear from incoming satellite feed through processing and on to another server farm in Sacramento that distributes finished data to television stations. As the data load increases, both in input and output, Watts and IntelliWeather continually need more processing capability and more servers.
Slicing the Power
Through eBay in 2008, Watts connected with a movie production company doing CGI that no longer needed an entire rack of Intel 1U rendering servers. Watts purchased the whole stack, installed them, and everything was fine because initial utilization of the new machines was fairly low. However, by the summer of 2010, every server was running nearly at capacity around the clock, each one continuously pulling about 180W. The more heat the servers generated, the more air conditioning had to be used. Warm season power bills just for this server stack were hitting $3,000 per month-no small expense for a small company.
Like so many other SMBs and small enterprises, IntelliWeather needed a better way to scale its computing capabilities while taking a leap in power efficiency. At the same time, it needed a better answer as to how it should dispose of existing servers that had reached their end of life. Donating that end of life technology to Computers For Classrooms was fine, but perhaps there was a better long-term approach.
In recent years, the rise of blade servers addressed some of Watts's needs but not enough of them. He investigated many of the blade options from top name manufacturers. Like all blade offerings, they offered the ability to start with one server in an enclosure and add more blades as needs dictated. In terms of footprint, the blade systems were more space-efficient than usual rackmount servers. However, every blade solution IntelliWeather examined was proprietary, requiring the vendor's own motherboards for that particular blade platform for any upgrading or replacements. Furthermore, the amount of energy savings advertised was not in line with Watts's needs.
So Watts did what any former electrical engineer and hardware hacker would do. He built what he wanted from scratch, just like he did for broadcast TV display systems.
Better with Build-a-Blade
First, Watts knew that different processing tasks require different types of server capabilities. The heavy lifting of rendering might benefit most from a cutting edge Xeon or Core i7 processor, but a server tasked with downloading from a low-speed, secondary satellite channel needs nothing more than a budget-friendly VIA C7. In traditional blade systems he examined, it was impossible to accommodate such diversity.
Second, to make systems upgradeable for the long-term, form factors are needed. An ATX desktop PC chassis purchased 15 years ago is still compatible with any ATX or microATX motherboard sold today because ATX is a widely adopted open standard. Yet such standards have never existed in the world of blade servers.
Third, even though big name blade systems advertise highly integrated power efficiency, energy savings gained through integration can be more than tossed away by requiring higher-consuming components than needed for the tasks at hand. Why require a 120W TDP processor on a blade when a 20W chip will serve equally well for much less money (both up front and ongoing)? Furthermore, the internal AC power supplies used in conventional blade systems are inherently less efficient than DC options. Studies have shown that data centers can realize power-saving improvements of over 28% by switching from AC to DC power distribution. Similar benefits can be realized at the rack and system level from making similar changes. Using DC power for computers isn't new; every notebook PC does it. But until now, the application to blade systems has been limited. With the popularization of green technology and demanding better energy efficiency, there has been a renewed interest in DC power systems.
IntelliWeather, branding its broadcast hardware as ITWorks, spent two years designing and refining its new Build-a-Blade product. Quite simply, Build-a-Blade is a 6U enclosure that can fit up to nine blades. Each blade is designed to fit any Mini-ITX or Thin Mini-ITX motherboard and up to six 2.5" storage drives, or a single 3.5" drive. Mini-ITX is a standard open form factor, originally designed by VIA in 2001, that is only gaining in popularity as the move for smaller, more energy-efficient systems continues.
Each Build-a-Blade tray uses a 12VDC power input port that links back to a dedicated DC "brick" on the enclosure's communal power supply tray. If a PSU ever goes bad, the user simply unplugs the appropriate brick from the tray, fastens down a new one in its spot, and the maintenance is complete. There's no complex disassembly involved, as in some other blade designs. Further, the DC power port enables these systems to be fueled by solar or wind power (with appropriate battery backup). Target applications might be in remote telecommuncations or mobile scenarios wherein a number of computers are needed, such as a mobile command center.
The final Build-a-Blade product cut IntelliWeather's $3,000 power bill down to less than $1,000. The stack of nine 2U servers that consumed 18U of rack space and 1080W now takes 6U and sips a mere 198W. With so much less power and heat waste, as well as an optimized 454 CFM airflow system, Build-a-Blade is also substantially quieter than the prior systems, which is valuable in smaller businesses where people spend all day working near their servers.
ITWorks now offers Build-a-Blade in configurations ranging from a starter DIY enclosure with one or more blades, to a fully configured system with nine blades. Common management tools based on IPMI or Intel's AMT are readily available and fully compatible with any installed Thin/Mini-ITX motherboards supporting those features. Build-a-Blade also recently launched a 4U eight blade system, using the new Thin Mini-ITX form factor. Depending on the configuration, some of these blades have a total power dissipation of less than 15 watts each.
The first PC "clones" appeared in 1982, and they signaled the end of IBM's proprietary grip on the PC market. Build-a-Blade will do the same for the blade market, helping to bring costs down, promote radical energy savings, and give customers much better return on their investment because they'll be buying exactly what they need and reusing their hardware for many more years to come.
Learn how to solve the problem of keeping files in sync between multiple Docker containers. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Aaron Brongersma, Senior Infrastructure Engineer at Modulus, discussed using rsync, GlusterFS, EBS and Bit Torrent Sync. He broke down the tools that are needed to help create a seamless user experience. In the end, can we have an environment where we can easily move Docker containers, servers, and volumes without impacting our applications? He shared his results so yo...
Jul. 31, 2015 11:45 PM EDT Reads: 782
Palerra, the cloud security automation company, announced enhanced support for Amazon AWS, allowing IT security and DevOps teams to automate activity and configuration monitoring, anomaly detection, and orchestrated remediation, thereby meeting compliance mandates within complex infrastructure deployments. "Monitoring and threat detection for AWS is a non-trivial task. While Amazon's flexible environment facilitates successful DevOps implementations, it adds another layer, which can become a ...
Jul. 31, 2015 10:15 PM EDT Reads: 307
With SaaS use rampant across organizations, how can IT departments track company data and maintain security? More and more departments are commissioning their own solutions and bypassing IT. A cloud environment is amorphous and powerful, allowing you to set up solutions for all of your user needs: document sharing and collaboration, mobile access, e-mail, even industry-specific applications. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Shawn Mills, President and a founder of Green House Data, discussed h...
Jul. 31, 2015 04:30 PM EDT Reads: 424
The Software Defined Data Center (SDDC), which enables organizations to seamlessly run in a hybrid cloud model (public + private cloud), is here to stay. IDC estimates that the software-defined networking market will be valued at $3.7 billion by 2016. Security is a key component and benefit of the SDDC, and offers an opportunity to build security 'from the ground up' and weave it into the environment from day one. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Reuven Harrison, CTO and Co-Founder of Tufin,...
Jul. 31, 2015 03:00 PM EDT Reads: 493
There are many considerations when moving applications from on-premise to cloud. It is critical to understand the benefits and also challenges of this migration. A successful migration will result in lower Total Cost of Ownership, yet offer the same or higher level of robustness. In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Michael Meiner, an Engineering Director at Oracle, Corporation, analyzed a range of cloud offerings (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS) and discussed the benefits/challenges of migrating to each offe...
Jul. 31, 2015 02:30 PM EDT
SYS-CON Events announced today that MobiDev, a software development company, will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. MobiDev is a software development company with representative offices in Atlanta (US), Sheffield (UK) and Würzburg (Germany); and development centers in Ukraine. Since 2009 it has grown from a small group of passionate engineers and business managers to a full-scale mobi...
Jul. 31, 2015 02:30 PM EDT Reads: 276
Chuck Piluso presented a study of cloud adoption trends and the power and flexibility of IBM Power and Pureflex cloud solutions. Prior to Secure Infrastructure and Services, Mr. Piluso founded North American Telecommunication Corporation, a facilities-based Competitive Local Exchange Carrier licensed by the Public Service Commission in 10 states, serving as the company's chairman and president from 1997 to 2000. Between 1990 and 1997, Mr. Piluso served as chairman & founder of International Te...
Jul. 31, 2015 02:00 PM EDT Reads: 367
Mobile, social, Big Data, and cloud have fundamentally changed the way we live. “Anytime, anywhere” access to data and information is no longer a luxury; it’s a requirement, in both our personal and professional lives. For IT organizations, this means pressure has never been greater to deliver meaningful services to the business and customers.
Jul. 31, 2015 01:45 PM EDT Reads: 103
In their session at 17th Cloud Expo, Hal Schwartz, CEO of Secure Infrastructure & Services (SIAS), and Chuck Paolillo, CTO of Secure Infrastructure & Services (SIAS), provide a study of cloud adoption trends and the power and flexibility of IBM Power and Pureflex cloud solutions. In his role as CEO of Secure Infrastructure & Services (SIAS), Hal Schwartz provides leadership and direction for the company.
Jul. 31, 2015 11:45 AM EDT Reads: 134
In a recent research, analyst firm IDC found that the average cost of a critical application failure is $500,000 to $1 million per hour and the average total cost of unplanned application downtime is $1.25 billion to $2.5 billion per year for Fortune 1000 companies. In addition to the findings on the cost of the downtime, the research also highlighted best practices for development, testing, application support, infrastructure, and operations teams.
Jul. 31, 2015 11:45 AM EDT Reads: 123
Puppet Labs has announced the next major update to its flagship product: Puppet Enterprise 2015.2. This release includes new features providing DevOps teams with clarity, simplicity and additional management capabilities, including an all-new user interface, an interactive graph for visualizing infrastructure code, a new unified agent and broader infrastructure support.
Jul. 31, 2015 10:00 AM EDT Reads: 146
For IoT to grow as quickly as analyst firms’ project, a lot is going to fall on developers to quickly bring applications to market. But the lack of a standard development platform threatens to slow growth and make application development more time consuming and costly, much like we’ve seen in the mobile space. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Weiner, Product Manager of the Omega DevCloud with KORE Telematics Inc., discussed the evolving requirements for developers as IoT matures and conducte...
Jul. 31, 2015 08:45 AM EDT Reads: 305
Container technology is sending shock waves through the world of cloud computing. Heralded as the 'next big thing,' containers provide software owners a consistent way to package their software and dependencies while infrastructure operators benefit from a standard way to deploy and run them. Containers present new challenges for tracking usage due to their dynamic nature. They can also be deployed to bare metal, virtual machines and various cloud platforms. How do software owners track the usag...
Jul. 31, 2015 08:00 AM EDT Reads: 164
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Arch...
Jul. 30, 2015 07:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,403
Providing the needed data for application development and testing is a huge headache for most organizations. The problems are often the same across companies - speed, quality, cost, and control. Provisioning data can take days or weeks, every time a refresh is required. Using dummy data leads to quality problems. Creating physical copies of large data sets and sending them to distributed teams of developers eats up expensive storage and bandwidth resources. And, all of these copies proliferating...
Jul. 30, 2015 06:30 PM EDT Reads: 895