GTC 2013: Pedraforca Is A Power Efficient ARM + GPU Cluster For Homogeneous (GPU) Workloads

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | March 20, 2013 - 01:47 PM |
Tagged: tesla, tegra 3, supercomputer, pedraforca, nvidia, GTC 2013, GTC, graphics cards, data centers

There is a lot of talk about heterogeneous computing at GTC, in the sense of adding graphics cards to servers. If you have HPC workloads that can benefit from GPU parallelism, adding GPUs gives you computing performance in less physical space, and using less power, than a CPU only cluster (for equivalent TFLOPS).

However, there was a session at GTC that actually took things to the opposite extreme. Instead of a CPU only cluster or a mixed cluster, Alex Ramirez (leader of Heterogeneous Architectures Group at Barcelona Supercomputing Center) is proposing a homogeneous GPU cluster called Pedraforca.
Pedraforca V2 combines NVIDIA Tesla GPUs with low power ARM processors. Each node is comprised of the following components:

  • 1 x Mini-ITX carrier board
  • 1 x Q7 module (which hosts the ARM SoC and memory)
    • Current config is one Tegra 3 @ 1.3GHz and 2GB DDR2
  • 1 x NVIDIA Tesla K20 accelerator card (1170 GFLOPS)
  • 1 x InfiniBand 40Gb/s card (via Mellanox ConnectX-3 slot)
  • 1 x 2.5" SSD (SATA 3 MLC, 250GB)

The ARM processor is used solely for booting the system and facilitating GPU communication between nodes. It is not intended to be used for computing. According to Dr. Ramirez, in situations where running code on a CPU would be faster, it would be best to have a small number of Intel Xeon powered nodes to do the CPU-favorable computing, and then offload the parallel workloads to the GPU cluster over the InfiniBand connection (though this is less than ideal, Pedraforca would be most-efficient with data-sets that can be processed solely on the Tesla cards).

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While Pedraforca is not necessarily locked to NVIDIA's Tegra hardware, it is currently the only SoC that meets their needs. The system requires the ARM chip to have PCI-E support. The Tegra 3 SoC has four PCI-E lanes, so the carrier board is using two PLX chips to allow the Tesla and InfiniBand cards to both be connected.

The researcher stated that he is also looking forward to using NVIDIA's upcoming Logan processor in the Pedraforca cluster. It will reportedly be possible to upgrade existing Pedraforca clusters with the new chips by replacing the existing (Tegra 3) Q7 module with one that has the Logan SoC when it is released.

Pedraforca V2 has an initial cluster size of 64 nodes. While the speaker was reluctant to provide TFLOPS performance numbers, as it would depend on the workload, with 64 Telsa K20 cards, it should provide respectable performance. The intent of the cluster is to save power costs by using a low power CPU. If your sever kernel and applications can run on GPUs alone, there are noticeable power savings to be had by switching from a ~100W Intel Xeon chip to a lower-power (approximately 2-3W) Tegra 3 processor. If you have a kernel that needs to run on a CPU, it is recommended to run the OS on an Intel server and transfer just the GPU work to the Pedraforca cluster. Each Pedraforca node is reportedly under 300W, with the Tesla card being the majority of that figure. Despite the limitations, and niche nature of the workloads and software necessary to get the full power-saving benefits, Pedraforca is certainly an interesting take on a homogeneous server cluster!

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In another session relating to the path to exascale computing, power use in data centers was listed as one of the biggest hurdles to getting to Exaflop-levels of performance, and while Pedraforca is not the answer to Exascale, it should at least be a useful learning experience at wringing the most parallelism out of code and pushing GPGPU to the limits. And that research will help other clusters use the GPUs more efficiently as researchers explore the future of computing.

The Pedraforca project built upon research conducted on Tibidabo, a multi-core ARM CPU cluster, and CARMA (CUDA on ARM development kit) which is a Tegra SoC paired with an NVIDIA Quadro card. The two slides below show CARMA benchmarks and a Tibidabo cluster (click on image for larger version).

Stay tuned to PC Perspective for more GTC 2013 coverage!


March 20, 2013 | 07:21 PM - Posted by kukreknecmi (not verified)

What keeps them running off Tesla's (i mean 8 of them maybe) on a Xeon system? Tesla's have great communication system once they are populated on the same board. If code mainly keeps CPU idle, the idled Xeons wont burn much too. I also wonder how much money they spend for a Infiniband adapter + switch ?? They are not cheap tho. Populating some of Teslas on the same board greatly reduce your discrete node needs? Does Tesla >>> Tesla Communication on the same mainboard system takes hit so much that they implement a seperate system?

March 24, 2013 | 11:25 AM - Posted by R6ex (not verified)

Isn't this the same idea as Nvidia Denver?