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A short series - the design and creation of a rugged Xeon class server #1

Posted by Cluster on

The Xeon Cluster Concept #1 – the MSC3M


Here we want to share a short series of stories, as the Tranquil R&D team conceive, design, test and build one of the world's first rugged, transportable micro clusters, based on Intel Xeon Core processors – what would become the MSC3M.

Our first micro cluster, the Orange Box was developed with the founder of Ubuntu, Mark Shuttleworth.  Watch here as Mark unveils the 'Orange Box' ~ at ODS 2014.

After the successful delivery of many of Intel NUC based micro clusters – branded Ubuntu (Orange Box), and listening to the feedback from our customers, Tranquil R&D started a project plan to develop a 'true server class' micro cluster.

The aim being to create a powerful cluster of up to 10 Xeon class servers, in a single boxed product that could be light enough, yet rugged enough to be successfully transported on public airlines. This solution would not only deliver a unique solution to support real world field deployments (i.e. disaster zones), it would also be an ideal tool to support sales demonstrations, software training, exhibitions, sand box development etc., for cloud based organisations. Additionally the cluster would deliver a temporary or permanent solution to deliver high performance computing (HPC) needs i.e. data mining, big data, off-site web servers, engineering and rendering etc., where a small dedicated 'network engine / data centre' platform is required

The primary challenge was to create a unit light enough and rugged enough to be attractive to the prospective markets. After much deliberation it was decided the design team could only achieve the goal by making the server systems and the flight case in one unit – a challenge indeed. Although the military and other specialist industries have rugged computers in special flight cases, we haven't seen a 'cluster' of servers in a single, rugged case.


The story of the MSC3M begins...

A range of Xeon class cluster products had already been developed and produced back 

in the Summer of 2014 – so the design and test time invested in the 'Xeon Blades' that would be used in the MSC3M could be relied on. A novel solution to closely stacking 'blades' was created. The complex custom 'blade carriers' were designed to not only support the main boards, SSDs etc., – but the embedded high performance heat pipes were used to carry the heat away from the CPU, chipset and voltage regulators to a large heat sink, spanning the depth and width of the system. The large, custom manufactured heat sink, assisting by forced air, cools all ten blades and also the power supply.

The 'core'

Having ten aluminium CPU 'blades' and the single or dual 720W PSUs connected to the large heat sink would then create a further challenge – a single large mass, of sensitive and expensive components. This 'core' mass was measured at 17-18Kg. Protecting the core from shocks that would be inflicted by couriers, airlines, and users is imperative to the success of the project.

The team designed a solution where the core is suspended inside the flight case itself. Specialised suspension devices and buffers were engineered to guarantee that even the most severe of transit shocks would be absorbed and there would be no damage to the core. In one of a series of tests a completed unit (total mass of 31Kg) was rolled down a flight of 15 concrete stairs! The system passed this excessive roll/drop test, although the flight case, and the stairs, did show small impact marks!


In the next part of this series, we share the CAD element of the design.

If you would like to know more about the MSC3M or wish to talk to us about a bespoke server cluster, please drop us a line.  Or why not check out the MSC3M product page here

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