SAN JOSE, Calif. Intel Corp. rolls out today (June 27) a new class of optical cables and a system specification in a two-pronged drive to accelerate the growth of computer clusters that use its x86 processors.
The Intel Connects Cables aim to replace today's 24-gauge copper cables with an optical alternative that opens the door to larger clusters that are easier to cool. The Intel cables are designed to support 20 Gbits/second for today's Infiniband-based clusters and have a reach of 100 meters compared to about 10 meters for similar copper cables.
Today's clusters typically are limited to 1,000 CPUs due to the 10 meter range of the copper cables. The optical cables "will allow clusters to get much larger. With 100-meter cables you can extend clusters to tens of thousands of CPUs across multiple floors of a building," said Tom Willis, general manager of the Intel product.
The Intel cables integrate the company's optical transceivers directly into their connectors. The cables are also 84 percent lighter, 83 percent smaller and have lower bit-error rates and conversion latencies than the copper alternative. The smaller size helps support better airflow and thus easier cooling for servers.
Clusters require "massive amounts of cabling," said Willis. "When you need a thousand cables, that's a lot of weight and a lot of blocked airflow in and around systems," he added.
At the International Supercomputing Conference 2007 in Dresden this week (June 26-29) a handful of companies will demonstrate a large cluster using the new Intel cables. They include Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Mellanox Technologies, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems.
Willis said at short distances the new optical cables will carry an undisclosed premium over 24-gauge copper. However, at longer distances they will be the same price.
The copper cables typically list for about $160 for 10 meters. Intel's optical cables will be in production before the end of the year.
Infiniband chip maker Mellanox has said it will roll out silicon for 40 Gbit/second links, perhaps before the end of the year. Willis said Intel will provide cables to handle those data rates once the technology is widely deployed.
Separately, Intel is announcing a specification that defines a basic configuration for a cluster as an aid to help relatively small end users verify and deploy the systems. For its part, Intel will define systems platforms that comply with the spec and use its server processors and chip sets. It is also rolling out an upgrade of its clustering software tool kit that now supports Windows as well as Linux.
The so-called Intel Cluster-Ready spec defines a set of hardware and software features ranging from details about switch fabrics and storage to operating systems services such as authentication, resource management, software provisioning.
Intel is courting software and systems developers to ship products complaint with its new Cluster-Ready program. So far only a handful of companies have signed up including just two major computer makers—Dell and SGI and a handful of smaller cluster specialists including Ansys, Platform and Transtec.
"We are just getting started with this program," said Herbert Cornelius, director of Intel's advanced computing center.