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Server Snapshots: Spotlight on Penguin Computing

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Server Snapshots: Spotlight on Penguin Computing

Penguin Computing’s initial focus was Linux on Opteron. Now, it meets a wide array of high-performance computing needs through its three server lines.

Penguin Computing made a name for itself by focusing on Linux and AMD-based Altus servers and clusters. Linux remains the operating system of choice, but the company has widened its lineup with the introduction of some blades, as well as Intel-based Relion servers.

Penguin Computing’s initial focus was Linux on Opteron. Now, it meets a wide array of high-performance computing needs through its three server lines.

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“We’ve had good traction with our AMD-based Altus line of products for several years, but now we are seeing some movement on the Intel-based Relion servers as well,” says Pauline Nist, senior vice president of product development and management at Penguin Computing. “At this point, we see our sales split 65 percent to 35 percent in favor of the Altus line because of the historical focus of the high-performance computing (HPC) customer who we cater to on AMD-based processors.”


Penguin created its first blade in 2004. Dubbed BladeRunner, the company designed it to combine density with low requirements in terms of power, cooling, cabling and maintenance. There are two models — an AMD version and an Intel version.

“BladeRunner is ideally suited for data center consolidation and entry-level, departmental, and development HPC clustering applications,” says Nist. “It accommodates up to 12 dual-processor blade servers in a 4U form factor.”

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This, she says, is three times more servers per rack unit than traditional 1U rackmount servers, 1.2 times better density compared to half-depth servers, and an average of 1.7 times better density than other blade enclosures. BladeRunner supports up to 108 blades servers in a standard 19 inch rack.

Most recently, Penguin introduced Scyld ControlCenter on its BladeRunner lines.
Scyld ControlCenter is a portable (Java-based), Web-accessible server management software solution provided with some Penguin hardware. It provides a single point of discovery, management, monitoring and control for Penguin servers.

Relion Racks

Intel-based Relion servers are based on x64 processors running Linux. Currently, Penguin has three Relion models. These range from entry level (for compute nodes or infrastructure servers) up to much larger systems with hundreds of processors.

Quad-core Intel Xeon processors, too, have been added to Relion 1600s and 2600s. Nist reports that quad-core AMD chips will be added to the line up as soon as they are available. Penguin has also been updating its servers with the latest in memory and Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) drives.

“We see some big news for all servers with the drop in memory prices, which allows for bigger memories and the shift from SCSI to SAS,” says Nist. “SAS technology has really emerged this past year as a high-end storage standard for very demanding applications and the most critical data.”

SAS uses high-speed (3Gbps) serial links between the host and drives, thus delivering unprecedented performance. Part of the reason for this shift to SCSI, says Nist, is that SAS hard drives are manufactured to the highest mechanical standards, enabling reliable 24/7 mission-critical use.

The Relion 2600, for example, comes with up to six 3.5 inch SAS drives, an integrated SATA/SAS disk controller, one or two Xeon processors (dual or quad core) and up to 32 GB of fully buffered DDR2 RAM. Additional features include, dual-integrated 10/100/Gigabit Ethernet, dedicated 10/100 Management NIC, two available PCI Express x8 slots and two PCI Express x8 low profile slots, as well as one 64-bit/100MHz PCI-X slot.

AMD Racks

The Altus product family has been a Penguin mainstay for many years. As new AMD chips have come out, the company has added them to Altus products, which are now available in six different models. All are Linux-based.

The Altus 600, for example, came on the market in January 2007. As the most recent addition to this line, it is designed for the cluster customer that wants performance while stretching the budget.

“Basically, we took out everything they don’t need so they can afford to buy more processors,” says Nist. “The key differentiator in the Altus 600 is that we offer it at the lowest price available, $1,500 per server, compared to Dell for instance, which sells at a higher price for the same configuration.”

The Altus 600 is based on AMD’s dual-core Rev F Opteron 2000s. It has a two-socket motherboard with up to 64 GB of main memory in 16 slots, up to two SATA disk drives, and a single PCI-Express x16 slot. It supports 667 MHz DDR2 main memory modules. In addition, the Altus 600 comes with a single 450 watt power supply and a motherboard based on nVidia’s nForce Professional 3600 MCP chipset. The system will support AMD’s quad-core technology as soon as that is available.


Along with Linux, Penguin has traditionally hitched its wagon to HPC. As a result, it has established a good reputation as a provider of Linux clusters.

“We can build turn-key clusters, such as our Performance Cluster, that are fully racked, integrated, tested, and ready to plug in and power on,” says Nist. “Our Performance Clusters deliver highly scalable and cost-effective computational power, ideal for HPC or horizontal-scaling applications, such as Web serving and collaboration.”

These clusters can be purchased in either Altus or Relion varieties. Combined with its Scyld ClusterWare Linux clustering software, Nist believes they are the easiest to use and most manageable clusters available anywhere. The software is also hardware-agnostic. This HPC system enables administrators to install, monitor and manage the cluster as a single system from one node. Through this, thousands of systems can be managed as if they were one consistent, virtual system.

“This lowers total cost of ownership compared to the unsupported software many cluster users started out with — and this is why commercial adoption of clusters has taken so long to take off,” says Nist.

Dual-Core and Beyond

Penguin’s positioning as an inexpensive HPC option has clearly benefited from the onslaught of multicore chips. Nist cites this trend as a key driver for the increase in Altus and Relion sales. She sees dual core bringing a huge improvement to the HPC market. However, there remains the challenge of providing applications for HPC that can easily take advantage of multicore configurations, particularly those beyond quad core.

“Applications have to be written for more parallelization,” says Nist. “That will be a real challenge, along with delivering the memory bandwidth to leverage multichip 8-core systems.”

Penguin Computing Close Up

Server Family Target Deployment Processor Types Processor Range Operating Systems Servers Cost
Altus 600 Compute node for density and efficiency optimized HPC cluster environments that consists of the latest AMD Opteron dual-core technology coupled with essential management features to support large cluster deployments. Altus 600 is the low overhead solution for compute clusters where CPU cycles and RAM are the primary objectives. AMD Opteron 2000 series 1 or 2 processors Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, Scyld ClusterWare 600 From $1,290
Altus 1600/2600 Altus line provides Opteron-based solutions for enterprise applications ranging from edge deployments to mission-critical database servers. Altus is also well-suited for HPC cluster management and file server roles. Altus 1600/2600 line of servers has variety of storage options from the more-affordable SATA to high-performance SAS drives. AMD Opteron 2000 series 1 to 2 Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Suse Linux Enterprise Server, Scyld ClusterWare 1600SA
From $1,721 (Altus 1600SA with SATA storage) or $1,953 (Altus 1600SS with SAS storage)
Relion 1600/2600 Relion is Penguin’s Xeon-based line of enterprise and HPC servers. Relions are available with a range of Xeon 5100 (dual-core) or Xeon 5300 (quad-core) high-performance CPUs. SATA and SAS storage options are available to support applications from simple file servers to high-performance databases. Complete hardware management and monitoring features are standard in all Relion servers Intel Xeon 5100/5300 series 1 to 2 processors Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Suse Linux Enterprise Server, Scyld ClusterWare 1600SA
From $1,890 (Relion 1600SA w/ SATA storage) or $2,122 (Relion 1600SS w/ SAS storage)

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