3M System Integrator Program Case Study

3M System Integrator Program Case Study
Electronic Solutions
3MTM Cable Assemblies for High-Performance Computer
and Data Center Applications
It Pays to Select Your Cables With Care
Wise HPC and data center designers offer six top tips for picking cables for the best price/performance.
When Facebook launched the Open Compute Project in 2011, the initiative
instantly popularized the DIY data center. The project shares hardware and data
center designs for free, in an effort to help companies lower costs and increase
energy efficiency. Since then, enterprises large and small have followed
Facebook’s lead in designing and installing data centers and high-performance
computing (HPC) clusters in-house.
When taking this path, careful consideration should be given to each piece
of equipment – cabling included. Too often, the cable assemblies used to
interconnect equipment in the data center environment are considered
commodity products and not given much thought. However, cable assemblies
are an important part of your network, and there are differences among the
myriad of cabling choices available on the market. Buy cheap and beware of
the consequences – data errors, slow speeds, and hours upon hours of IT time
spent searching for the offending cable.
These issues can be avoided by choosing the right cables to begin with.
Here are six things to consider:
1. Compatibility Equipment built to industry standards are intended to be
interoperable with other standards-based devices – but beware. That bargainpriced, no-name brand cable you have in the drawer may look like it meets a
standard, such as InfiniBand™ FDR, but the internal electronics may actually
be specific to an OEM, which could mean that it is not compatible with your
piece of equipment. Consult the device’s manual for the specified I/O cable.
You may need to buy the cable from the same manufacturer or an authorized
distributor to prevent voiding the warranty or creating technical support issues.
If you are assembling your own computing equipment, make sure your cables
are not specific to a particular OEM’s products by carefully reading the specs
and consulting your distributor’s technical service engineers.
2. Performance Cables can’t speed up your system, but they can certainly
slow it down. Make sure your cable can support the speed you need. Industry
standards prescribe performance – for instance, a cable marked SFP+
should be capable of supporting 10 Gigabit Ethernet.
Another aspect of performance to consider is: How will the cable perform when
routed? Because of the precise conductor geometry required to maintain signal
integrity, many cables have a less-than-generous prescribed bend radius. If
an installer bends it beyond its limit, cable performance can be compromised.
Choosing a cable that can be bent and folded without significantly affecting
signal performance, such as the 3M™ Twin Axial Cable, can help ensure that
the cable will perform at a high level after it's deployed.
A case study is available from 3M which explains that Flextronics carried out
electrical performance tests and showed good performance up to 20 Gbps,
even when the cable was folded.
3. Routability Ease of routing is an issue, especially in horizontal runs,
where copper cable assemblies are generally used to interconnect servers
within the rack. Save space by using cables that can still perform well if bent
or folded.
Traditionally, round twin axial cables are used within the rack. These cables
typically need a generous bend radius. Bending them too much can distort the
precise cable geometry needed to maintain impedance control, degrading
signal performance.
On the other hand, the 3M™ Twin Axial Cable’s innovative construction allows
it to be tightly bent and folded – even multiple times – without significantly
affecting signal performance. A small bend radius means it can be routed to
consume less real estate in the rack and can be routed out of the way of air
flow channels, potentially reducing cooling costs.
3M Twin Axial Cables can also aid in designing high-density modular data
center designs. For instance, Nor-Tech, a leading manufacturer of HPC
solutions, used the cables in a sealed, portable data center solution for their
client, who needed a custom super computer that would fit in tight quarters.
Nor-Tech designed a compact, sealed, portable data center solution comprised
of 1,300 CPU cores, with InfiniBand™ cables connecting each compute core.
Air flow within the cooled system was critical to keep it performing to its
highest capability.
Nor-Tech faced a significant challenge in interconnecting the cores.
Conventional InfiniBand™ cables allowed very limited bending and could have
resulted in a “rat’s nest” of cable congestion in the confined space. Routing
the cables away from air flow channels also proved difficult. The 3M Twin Axial
Cable Assembly for QSFP+ Applications provided a better solution. Nor-Tech
was able to route the cables away from air flow channels, helping the
company’s engineers create a highly compact system that would not overheat.
“The ability to pack the 3M cables together and off to the side gave us greater
density,” Dom Daninger, Vice President of Engineering at Nor-Tech, told 3M.
“They allowed us to cut the product’s size by close to 50 percent” without
encountering air flow problems.
Air flow is critical to performance. Nor-Tech’s portable data center is designed
to self-throttle down when it reaches its maximum temperature. The throttledown mechanism protects the hardware and the data against damage, but
ideally should be avoided because it lowers performance, which “defeats the
purpose of a super computer,” Daninger said. Using the 3M Twin Axial Cable,
“we haven’t seen anything close to max temperature,” he said.
4. Energy Efficiency Active Optical Cables (AOCs) have become a
common sight in data centers due to fiber’s ability to deliver high-speed
data rates over long reaches. Be aware that these cable assemblies contain
a transceiver on each end that performs the electrical-optical-electrical
conversion, and those transceivers consume power – up to one-third of
the power used by a 10 Gbps port, in fact, according to industry experts.
Therefore, choosing a low-power AOC is essential to creating an energy
efficient data center.
Making informed choices about
cabling can make the difference
between a system that performs
reliably and one prone to errors.
Interconnect suppliers have toiled to bring down power consumption of AOCs.
Yet, even within the low-power category, power consumption varies from
product to product. Compare the power usage specs of AOC products in order
to make sure you are purchasing a cable assembly that will help maximize
energy efficiency. 3M offers some of the lowest power AOCs available on the
market for QSFP+ and SFP+ applications in order to help data centers reduce
consumption and cost.
5. Reliability As data rates increase and customers become less tolerant
of errors and failure, the reliability of all equipment becomes more critical.
Like anything else, with cables, you get what you pay for. Look for a trusted
cable manufacturer with expertise in interconnect technology who backs up its
products with technical service and warranties. Go to the cable manufacturer’s
website and download the very latest supporting technical documentation
and reference materials. Authorized distributors and value added resellers are
another good source of information. Above all, choose a cabling vendor that
can show test data that confirms product reliability and that has a proven track
record of producing robust products.
6. Total Cost of Ownership If you’ve read this far and you still insist on
buying the cheapest cable available, consider this: the price of the cable itself
provides only part of the cost picture. Like any piece of hardware, determining
the true cost must include an evaluation of its associated operating expense.
One important aspect of total cost of ownership (TCO) to consider is ease of
maintenance. For instance, in the Nor-Tech case, its customer required
clearance between the nodes so that frequent maintenance and changes could
be performed unencumbered. When an IT technician has to maneuver though
a “rat’s nest” of cabling in order to perform a task, unproductive time on the
clock ticks away. That’s another reason why Nor-Tech chose the 3M Twin Axial
Cable. The cable’s ability to be bent at sharp angles allows it to be neatly folded
out of the way for ease of maintenance.
“By packing the cable off to one side, we were able to create plenty of space
for cable management,” Daninger said.
Making informed choices about cabling can make the difference between a
system that performs reliably and one prone to errors. These six simple
pointers will help you ask the right questions of your provider so your
manager doesn’t have to.
Highly Routable Cable from 3M Helps Nor-Tech Create Winning HPC Design
Nor-Tech, a leading system integrator and manufacturer of HPCs, responded to
a request for proposal (RFP) for a custom super computer. To meet the client's
requirements, Nor-Tech designers faced the challenge of creating a high-density,
easily maintainable mobile system with the ability to fit into tight quarters.
Nor-Tech devised a sealed, portable data center solution comprised of 1,300
InfiniBand™-connected compute cores. Interconnecting the compute nodes while
minimizing system size presented a major design challenge. Air flow within the
cooled system, which is designed to withstand 80 kilowatts of power, was
critical to keep it performing to its highest capability. Conventional InfiniBand™
cables are round with a shielding construction that allows very limited bending,
making it nearly impossible to route cables away from air flow channels.
Moreover, the jumble of round cables would make hot swapping difficult,
forcing the design to fall short of the client's specifications.
up to 3 meters away from air flow channels, helping to keep the system cool
while leaving room for maintenance access.
Nor-Tech’s design was accepted by the client. In fact, the client's reps told
the system integrator personnel that their proposal was the only one that
came close to what they had in mind. The 3M Twin Axial Cable Assembly
helped achieve that winning design.
The 3M™ Twin Axial Cable Assembly for QSFP+ Applications, 9QA0 Series
solved Nor-Tech’s interconnect problem. The flat, thin cables can be bent and
folded without significantly affecting signal performance, opening up novel
routing possibilities. Nor-Tech was able to route the cables, in various lengths,
3M Twin Axial Cable Assembly
for QSFP+ Applications, 9QAO
Series - flat, foldable and fast.
By using flat, foldable 3M Twin Axial Cable
Assemblies for QSFP+ Applications, Nor-Tech
was able to dress and route the cables to
facilitate air flow and still allow access to
the equipment during maintenance.
Flat 3M™ Twin Axial Cable Assemblies for QSFP+ Applications provided Nor-Tech engineers the density they needed to connect
the units inside their space-constrained cabinet without significantly affecting signal performance when bent and folded.
3M is a member of InfiniBand® Trade Association (IBTA).
For details on the products described here, please refer to the 3M customer drawings available for download at www.3Mhighspeed.com.
Unless otherwise noted, references to industry specifications are intended to indicate substantial compliance to the material elements of the specification. Such references
should not be construed as a guarantee of compliance to all requirements in a given specification.
3M is a trademark of 3M Company. InfiniBand is a trademark of InfiniBand® Trade Association (IBTA). All other trademarks herein are the property of their respective owners.
Important Notice
Before using this product, you must evaluate it and determine if it is suitable for your intended application. You assume all risks and liability associated with such use.
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Electronic Solutions Division
Interconnect Products
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