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First Google, Now the Genome: Rackable Builds High-Density Kilocluster for UCSC


Rackable Systems has already installed one of the largest Linux server farms in the world for Google, but that hasn’t diminished the company’s enthusiasm for its latest client win: a “Kilocluster” system to power genomics research at the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Center for Biomolecular Sciences and Engineering.

Rackable just completed its installation of more than 500 Intel servers, with more than 1000 CPUs, at the center. The dual-processor servers, in 1u and 2u configurations, were installed using the company’s back-to-back chassis design, which doubles the density over the same rack space. The design uses a chimney-like cooling system to evacuate hot air from between the racks.

Jason Enos, vice president of sales at Rackable, said the UCSC contract gives the company a “running start” in the genomics market. Launched in 1999, the company has spent little on marketing or advertising, but has instead relied on its high-profile clients such as Google, Yahoo, and Hotmail to raise awareness of its products through word of mouth.

“The trickle-down effect has been amazingly successful,” said Enos. “We’re hoping to explore some of the same opportunities in this market.”

Rackable built the cluster from the ground up in a special computer room designed to house the system. However, the company ran up against several challenges, “not the least of which is the need for a pricing structure that fits into a budget determined by research grants,” said Enos.

The final price for the installation was not disclosed, but Enos said Rackable’s systems are generally much lower in cost than those of its big iron competitors and the company stayed “flexible” in order to work within UCSC’s budget. “We were so happy to be a part of the Human Genome Project that we ended up saving them over a quarter of a million dollars,” he said.

Other restrictions included space utilization and thermodynamic efficiency, which the company was able to address with its back-to-back design and air-flow model.

The university intends to double the capacity of the system as its work on mammalian genomics accelerates, so the system’s density will become an even more important consideration going forward.

Ann Pace, assistant director for the center at UCSC, said that Rackable “gave us a great product designed to our requirements at a very agreeable price. We consider this a generous contribution by Rackable to the cause of genomic research at our university.”

— BT

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