Server Snapshots: Verari BladeRack 2

Many names instantly spring to mind when blades are considered: HP, IBM, Dell, and perhaps Egenera. Most likely not Verari. Yet this vendor focuses on blades and is experiencing average annual growth rates of 110 percent for past five years.

IBM and HP may dominate the blade game, but they are far from the only players. Verari is one vendor stealthily expanding in this space. Its solution packs a powerful yet cool punch.

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"Verari has been executing relatively well in the x86 server market," says Heeral Joshipura, an analyst at Gartner in Stamford, Conn. "But it has limited geographical coverage — mainly North America — and a small customer installed base."

Verari Systems is based in San Diego, Calif. Its BladeRack 2 is used by industry heavyweights that include Akamai, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, NASA, Northrop Grumman, Qualcomm, Sony Imageworks and Veritas, as well as top universities and research institutions worldwide.

Verari Systems designs and produces these blades and their associated racks. They are aimed at high-density data center environments. According to Josipura, the company concentrates on the high-performance computing (HPC) market, as well as the service provider space.

Verari Systems was born in 1996 as Racksaver. In those days, it made 1U and 2U rack servers. After struggling along for a few years, it began looking for a new direction.

"We needed a better way to provide a dense infrastructure," says Mike LaPan, manager of marketing operations at Verari.

In his company's experience, the top systems in racks were not getting enough hot air and so were failing about 20 percent or 30 percent more than systems positioned lower down. That's why, he says, it's common for data centers to leave the top 10Us or 12Us of a 44U rack empty.

Verari, therefore, gravitated toward blade servers as a more efficient concept. Its BladeRack 2 is an ultra-dense design that can pack 66 servers into each rack. These can use AMD or Intel dual- or quad-core chips. If quad core, this translates into 528 cores.

"We can configure the racks to suit customer needs," says LaPan. "Some don't need quad core, and actually prefer single core for specific uses."

Thousands of these nodes can be managed from a single site via Verari Command Center Software 3.0 (VCC). When the company acquired MPI Software, it picked up additional software talent in the form of a team of veteran software engineers.

"Blade design isn't just about power and cooling," says LaPan. "It also requires good management software, so we include it with every rack."

While power and cooling may not be enough, Verari certainly thought they were important enough to emphasize in the BladeRack 2. The company built innovative vertical cooling into its racks, which it says eliminates the requirements of hot aisles in the data center. As a result, you can pack a lot more into the available square footage.

Instead of air coming in from the front of rack via the cold aisle, it is sucked in from underneath. The perforated tiles normally positioned in front of the racks are instead situated underneath. They pull air directly up through the rack.

"This is much more efficient, as you don't have to cool the entire data center, so you need a lot less power for CRAC units," says LaPan.

In addition, BladeRack 2's direct power architecture enables it to accept native 480v power direct from the street to the rack without intermediate power distribution units that typically step the power down to around 208v. By stepping the power down, some efficiency is lost. With the BladeRack 2, the power distribution technology is built directly into the rack.

The racks can be configured with blades intended for compute intensive applications, or as storage blades. Alternatively, racks can be ordered with a combination. The compute nodes, for example, have only one hard drive so as to leave maximum room for chips. The storage blades, on the other hand, can have up to 10 500GB hard drives. (750GB drives will be available within a few weeks.)

LaPan lists the primary target markets as financial services, ISP/ASP, search engine, electronic design automation and HPC. It is also particularly well-suited to ultra-dense installations such as hosting, clustering/server farms and entertainment.

Verari is also focusing on expanding in storage, workstations and software. "Utility storage is the fastest growing product," says Joshipura. "However, going forward Verari wants to go into the Web 2.0 space."

How much does the Verari BladeRack 2 cost? Ed Holden, a senior product manager with the company, says that a fully populated rack with 66 dual Opteron/Xeon CPU compute nodes (each with 1GB RAM and 250GB HDD) is available starting at around $230,000 per rack. A rack fully populated with VB5150 Storage Nodes (240TB), on the other hand, starts at approximately $180,000 per rack.

Such racks can certainly pack a punch. The BladeRack 2 with 66 Dual Xeon X5355 CPUs recorded more than 4 TFlops per rack in the Linpack benchmark.

The Verari BladeRack 2 Close Up

Name BladeRack 2
Vendor Verai Systems
Platform x86
Dimensions Full Rack: 86" high x 24" wide x 45" deep; about 2,300 pounds when fully configured with 66 compute nodes
Processor Details 66 AMD or Intel nodes per rack. These can be single-core, dual-core or quad-core.
Hard Drives Two to four 750GB SATA/SAS HDDs per compute node
10 to 12 750GB SATA/SAS HDDs per storage node (up to 576 HDDs per BladeRack 2 frame)
Operating Systems Fedora Core Linux (2.6 Kernels), Cent O/S (2.6 Kernels), RHEL 4.0, SLES 10, Windows Server 2003
Configuration Options Sample configurations:
66 Dual Opteron/Xeon CPU compute nodes (1GB RAM, 250GB HDD) starting at about $230,000 per rack
VB5150 Storage Nodes (240TB) starting at about $180,000 per rack
Availability This server is currently available
Warranty One to three years

This article was originally published on Mar 13, 2007
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