Does More Cores Mean Less Nodes?

October 9th, 2009 11:19 am
Posted by Douglas Eadline
Tags: , , ,

Packing cores into a node means less servers are needed, but the market is still growing.

Ever since the shift to multi-core processors began, I have always had a nagging question - Does more cores mean less nodes? I have wrestled with this question and finally realized that there is no simple answer. I should preface this post by stating that I am talking about HPC and not the general market place where multi-core and virtualization are all the rage.

To understand why I ask this, consider that back when Linux clustering began, the single core Pentium Pro and Dec Alpha where the two processors of choice. Large clusters were maybe 64 or 128 nodes (often tower cases), which translated into 64 or 128 cores. Today you can easily pack 128 cores into 16 nodes - not even a full rack chassis. Given this trend, is the node count for clusters getting smaller?

From my anecdotal evidence, I seem to notice several trends. First, the HPC market, after a downturn, seems to be growing again and is projected to reach $11.7 billion by 2012 (IDC). This revenue is up from a $9.6 billion figure for 2008. Thus, the hunger for nodes is increasing and not deceasing, which begs a further question. Are node counts increasing or are more people buying clusters? (i.e. instead of a few people buying larger clusters, are there a lot of people buying smaller manageable clusters.) For the marketing types out there, maybe you know the answer. If not, that is a good question to ask. Leave a comment and give us a clue.

Second, from my experience there is plenty of HPC work to go around. Whether nodes are in a large data center cluster or in a small local blade system, it seems the cores are busy. Perhaps we are seeing the rise of the Closet Cluster?


Comment from jeraa2t
Time October 26, 2009 at 12:44 pm

I wonder if system memory bandwidth will be able to keep up with this many cores per node with some of the multithreaded apps out there today. Also, one node goes down, loosing 32 or 64 cores at a time is not acceptable in some cases.


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Author Info

Dr. Douglas Eadline has worked with parallel computers since 1988 (anyone remember the Inmos Transputer?). After co-authoring the original Beowulf How-To, he continued to write extensively about Linux HPC Clustering and parallel software issues. Much of Doug's early experience has been in software tools and and application performance. He has been building and using Linux clusters since 1995. Doug holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Lehigh University.