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Are Blades Clusters?

by Christopher Willard, Ph.D.
for Intersect360 Research (originally published under the Tabor Research name)
Nov 8, 2007

The difference between blades and clusters, or rather between blade-based distributed-memory systems and rack-mounted distributed-memory systems, has led from time to time to the following question: Are the two types of systems variations of a common type or two separate types? (Or more simply: Are blades clusters?)

Table 1 compares data on blade-based systems and nodes with clusters and rack-mounted nodes (a.k.a. cluster nodes). Data for this table was generated from the Technology Views module of the InterSect360TM market advisory service. This database is currently based on specifications for 153 server products and 177 nodes which are actively sold into the HPC market by 14 suppliers. It contains technical data at both the system level and the node level. This database will be updated periodically. More detailed information about server technology currently sold to HPC market is available in the Tabor Research report: InterSect360TM Market Advisory Service: Technology Views, "Technology Prevalence in the HPC Market," September 2007.

There are about three times as many cluster nodes and systems as there are blade nodes and systems in the sample set. The table shows similarities centered on the use of standards-based components (such as x86-64 processors and standard interconnects) and differences center on the greater capacity afforded by rack-mounted nodes in such areas as sockets per node, configurable disk drives, memory, and I/O ports.

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