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Armari, Seymour Cray and a giant gold sarcophagus

by Ryszard Sommefeldt on 10 November 2004, 00:00

Tags: Armari

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If you've been reading HEXUS recently, you'll know that we partnered with Armari, a UK systems integrator (SI), so that I could bring you the world's first preview of IWill's ZMAXdp, their highly anticipated, dual Opteron small form factor product.

I'll spare you the details, but while I was working with Armari on the article it transpired that I had to take a trip to their offices to deliver the ZMAXdp to them, so it wouldn't miss a deadline at another publication. While I was there I forced Dan, Armari's head honcho, to show me round the offices (by threatening to drop the ZMAXdp on the floor and run out of the building with a handful of SLI-capable mainboards, I kid you not!). It was mainly so I could see what an outfit like Armari was all about, and to also get an insight into how one of the SIs that we work with goes about their daily business. That daily business includes creating some of the most powerful workstation, gaming and clustered HPC computers that money can buy.

Building computers at Armari

Armari's building

While Armari offers a set of pre-configured computer systems on its website, the majority of the systems it ships out to customers are bespoke systems created for a specific requirement.

I was shown the main system build room where Armari put together the systems ordered. If you order a bespoke system with your own customisations, Armari contact you and endeavour to start the shipping process two weeks after you initially order. That gives them a one week buffer to obtain any parts you need that they don't have in stock, with the second week set aside for burn-in and compatibility testing to make sure everything is working perfectly before shipping to you.

One of the more notable configurations in the process of being assembled as I had a look around was a dual Opteron 250 box with 16GB of main system memory and dual Samsung 24 inch LCD monitors. At £2000 a throw just for the screens, that particular customer, in Russia no less, had very deep pockets. It's not that uncommon an order at Armari either, with the company selling really high-end single systems with dual or quad Opteron CPUs for a while now.

Dan showed me to a bench in the corner with a dual Xeon, NVIDIA SLI setup in the early stages of building. A demo box for the company's own use, Armari are enthusiastic about SLI and given the systems customers tend to purchase from them, they're expecting to sell more than just a handful of high-end SLI setups.

Just past the bench in the far corner was the guts of an old Kryotech unit. Remember them? Armari were UK launch partners for the early phase-change pioneers and a Kryotech's innards are now used in the company's overclocking efforts. With a dual Xeon system submerged in their InertX coolant (more on that later), the Kryotech chiller system chilled the coolant to let them overclock the CPUs to 3.96GHz and take the world record in PCMark04 in August this year. While the score has recently been beaten, dual Xeons at nearly 4GHz remains impressive.

Then we wandered to the area where they test clustered HPC systems. Cooled by a pair of giant air-conditioning units, the system on test was a 64-blade, 128-Opteron CPU Linux HPC cluster, being burned in and tested for temperature spikes in the dual cabinets it was being shipped in. It had a massive Myrinet fibre interconnect running down the back of the cab assembly and it was producing fearsome heat. Combined with the compute nodes (for which Armari's customers usually spec up a 4-way Opteron system for front-end duties), it was a toasty setup, the temperature warning light blinking on a couple of nodes.

That Armari are comparatively low-volume in terms of sales, and that they create mostly completely bespoke computer, means that you pretty much get a single engineer creating your system, from start to finish. If anything does go wrong, that engineer is already familiar with the setup details of your system and can assist in the trouble shooting. While Dan was keen to stress that returns and failures of their systems is pretty much a non-event, if something does go wrong, it appears Armari are setup to quickly and easily help you sort things out.

However, while seeing the methods and work area that Armari use to put together their computer systems, it was a couple of other computers in the same part of the building as the HPC cluster being tested that I was most interested in. Unable to fit under your regular desk, or in a rack like the Linux HPC, say hello to Armari's Cray supercomputers.