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Warning: Advanced Technology Ahead

COW Blogs : Steve Modica's Blog : Warning: Advanced Technology Ahead
I remember the days when CPUs were stuck in a rut. They were barely hitting 1Ghz. Networks were running at 1Gb and beyond and CPUs and storage just could not keep up. Clients wanted redundant, failover capable servers that could handle 600 clients, but SGI was running out of ways to do that. We couldn’t make the bus any wider (128bit computers?) and we couldn’t make the CPUs any faster. What should we do?

One answer was to network many systems together over NUMA (non-uniform memory access). This would let many systems (that would normally be a cluster) act as if they were one system. The problem with a setup like this is speed. Systems accessing remote memory are slow. We had to find a way to speed up access to memory.

SGI invented lots of cool stuff to do this.

One of the new things was the CPOP connector. This connector was made up of many fuzzy little pads. The fuzzy pads would be compressed together and allow for a much higher frequency connection than normally would be allowed with gold pins.

The problem with delicate things like this is that they are far more sensitive to installation mistakes. Each connector needed to be torqued down to the right pressure so that the signals made it across cleanly. Install them too loosely and you’re going to see connectivity errors.

So cut to one of our advanced training courses where we taught field engineers how to replace boards. The instructor explained how each HEX head screw on the CPU cards needs to be torqued down to an exact specification. This is where one of the helpful field guys, who had clearly done this before, piped up and explained that you know the boards are properly seated when you tighten the HEX screw down and hear three “clicks.”

The instructor and I looked at each other. We didn’t remember there being three clicks. We normally used torque drivers to accurately measure the torque and there were never any clicks.

After some investigation and a quick examination of the board our helpful field guy had just installed, we discovered the source of the “three clicks.” They were the sound of the very expensive backplane cracking as the HEX screw penetrated the various layers of plastic…. OUCH.

From that point on, correct torque drivers were provided to all field personnel.

Posted by: Steve Modica on Nov 5, 2012 at 8:29:22 amComments (2) storage, servers


Re: Blog: Warning: Advanced Technology Ahead
by Bob Zelin
I completely disagree with this post.
I read with great interest about the "three clicks" for the torque driver. Which reminds me of SCSI drives, and having to assigning the proper address for the drive to get things to work.

Insead of stating "Warning: Advanced Technology Ahead", it should have been titled "don't worry, you don't have to understand any of this - just plug it in and it will work". This is what people wanted from drive arrays (and got it). This is what people wanted from all peripherals (and almost got it). The companies that succeed will develop products where their clients have to know NOTHING, and things will just work. And all the guys that have spent their entire careers learning "this stuff" will bitch and complain, and the peon, that has never learned a thing will buy "that product" because they don't have to know anything - "it just works". And the companies that make the product "that just works" will win. Of course, no one defines this like Apple. This ranges from the operating system, to OS X Server on current Lion/Mountain Lion server installs. I laugh when I read all the "professional IT guys" bitching about how horrible and useless OS X Mountain Lion Server is - the bottom line is, that it just works, and it threatens their careers.

Look what happened to the print industry. Look what happened to "professional" photography.

Bob Zelin

Re: Blog: Warning: Advanced Technology Ahead
by Steve Modica
[Bob Zelin] "I completely disagree with this post."

All right now! The election is over :)

To your broader point, I think there's a definite transition of technology from Engineering to Professional to Prosumer to Consumer.

Cars are a good example. There was a time when you had to be an engineer to own a car. Now, you can be a 16 year old with rich parents. You'd have a hard time trying to be a super high end car engineer these days.

Likewise, there was a time you needed to have a PhD to run a supercomputer. In my lifetime, that same performance existed in a Power Mac. That same CPU performance is now in the iphone5. (and once again, owned by 16 year olds with rich parents).

Friends of mine are working on this today:

However, they now have to compete with people doing similar things in the Amazon cloud:

To install the Cray Cascade, you'd pretty much have to spec out a building. The Amazon cloud guys used the "machine" for a few days until their job was done.


Steve Modica
CTO, Small Tree Communications
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