"Silver is the new black", "The back is the new front"...
Bruce Smith A.K.A. the "Father of NeXtScale" discusses his new baby!
If you had not heard... On September 10th, IBM launched NeXtScale Systems, a new type of system positioned to address a wide variety of scale-out work loads where flexibility and simplicity are valued attributes. The release is a culmination of efforts by a worldwide team, the type of which only IBM can assemble, to create a design that is both complementary to the System x portfolio and stands on its own merits. One glance at the chassis and nodes with the silver finish will immediately signal that there is something different going on in the business as usual design language has given way to a product focused on delivering value where it counts.
About two years ago we assembled a group of engineers from around the world, representing all the key development disciplines, for a week in Taipei to begin the process of defining what has become known as NeXtScale. We were fortunate to have not only technical leads from many of our most successful platforms but also the local team from TSTL(Taiwan Systems & Technology Lab) bringing with them a wealth of experience in high-volume product delivery and unique industry perspectives from their previous roles in various ODM & OEMs in Taiwan. The target was very clear, provide higher density while carrying on the underlying concepts established by iDataPlex of simplicity and ease of solution configuration.
The intent has always been to take the long view of the platform, build a base for several generations of server design points as well as providing a home for emerging technologies that might not even be completely baked yet. This led the team to the 6U form factor with two zones for half-wide nodes and thermal management, just the right balance of scale with shared power and cooling.
The simplicity of the design manifests in two ways. First, the chassis does not embed switches requiring high-speed backplane designs. Instead solutions can be constructed using rack-mounted switching and storage components based on specific customer requirements. Second, the interface between the nodes and the element that controls the chassis power supplies and fans consists of a handful of control signals and a moderate-speed standard interface, with a protocol that will allow a wide variety of nodes and options to be supported. The chassis-plus infrastructure provides a firm foundation, but doesn’t overwhelm the solution in terms of management and configuration complexity or place an undue cost burden on the platform.
The overall result is that the nodes installed in the front of the chassis are what provide value to our customers and this is where the bulk of the development energy has and will be focused. Leading the way is a minimalist two socket Xeon server with robust, targeted communications options, top bin processor and DRAM support that is unencumbered with features that are not needed or rarely utilized.
This node will be a technical computing workhorse that's ready to take on additional workloads with the addition of Native Expansion options in the form of a multi-TB SATA drive tray or high-end accelerators for HPC and visualization tasks. In both cases the product enhancements are delivered in a value-oriented manner utilizing the essential features built into the base platform.
NeXtScale is about providing a clean, solution-oriented design that will be the base for a wide variety of targeted offerings. The new look from the outside permeates the product from the chassis through to the nodes and their options. Watch this space, this is only the beginning.
Bruce A. Smith
STSM IBM Corporation
Thirteen years in IBM’s Systems & Technology Group, currently on assignment to IBM’s Taipei development lab. Primary role is the lead system architect driving the development of recently announced NeXtScale product, see http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/x/announce.html?lnk=ushpcs2 . Instrumental in defining the iDataPlex dx360m4, compute node used in the LRZ Supercomputer, #9 on the HPC Top 500 list. Previously served as the CloudBurst and HPC hardware architect for System x solutions, the lead hardware engineer working with IBM Austin Research on ultra low power dense server prototypes, the hardware architecture lead for Blade Center telco servers and the client blade.
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