Hank Bruning, President, JBlade

JBlade reduces OPEX and expands efficiency with the AdvancedTCA Compass System Manager.

1Hank Bruning’s company, JBlade, makes the Compass AdvancedTCA System Manager and also offers Java programming libraries. A decade-plus PICMG member, Hank comments on AdvancedTCA history and on system management trends for telcos, the military, and the data center.

How do you sum up the progress of the AdvancedTCA spec over the last 10 years?

Three versions of the specification have come out over the last ten years, and they have progressively gotten tighter. In addition, the versions maintain backwards compatibility, which aids everyone in the end user community.

Where do JBlade and the AdvancedTCA specification interact?

Our primary product is the AdvancedTCA Compass System Manager. This allows an end user to monitor up to 160 blades through a single user interface. The purpose of system managers is all about efficiency. Capital expenditures (CAPEX) drive the initial costs, but the ‘people time’ invested in fixing problems and managing the system drives operating expenditures, or OPEX. Getting OPEX down is what system managers are about nowadays. If you have a pair of eyeballs looking at a text command line, and it takes an employee 20 minutes to fix a problem, that is 20 minutes of lost productivity. Contrast that with a situation where a graphical system manager makes monitoring large numbers of blades possible. Now you have an environment where employee efficiency is increased and operating expenses are lower.

Our customers want to keep their systems running at the 99.9 percent level. Compass reduces the mean time to repair because it's point and click interface is such that if you can see it, you can click on it, and it does something. Compare this with the extensive training involved to interpret a command line. Graphical system managers increase efficiency because the system manager is pushing information to the end user instead of them having to go get a part and then ask for the next layer in the onion. One of the sectors for which higher operator efficiency is key is the military, where personnel turnover is high, and you don’t want training costs to get out of hand.

An advantage of Compass is that high-end users who need more functionality than Compass provides can purchase the underlying Java libraries for the graphics or Intelligent Platform Management Interfaces (IPMIs) and build their System Manager. That makes Compass unique in the military, telco, and data center markets.

Why will AdvancedTCA gain traction in the data center?

AdvancedTCA system management offers the opportunity to tie all the temperature and fan sensors inherent in the system back into the air conditioning system of the data center room. This allows the operators to increase the air temperature of the controlled air temperature room and thus save on operating costs.

Because the AdvancedTCA specification has defined a mechanism to control the fan levels and requires temperature sensors on FRUs, any vendor can design a system manager to monitor any AdvancedTCA-compliant system for its thermal characteristics. Just plug a blade into, for example, a RadiSys chassis or Schroff chassis, and they will know whether it is healthy or not, as well as knowing how close to the thermal edge they are running it.

A typical 16-slot AdvancedTCA chassis has approximately 500 sensors. Each time a core is added to an AdvancedTCA blade, it brings with it a number of temperature sensors. Every time Intel puts another core on a blade that action adds six or seven temperature sensors and five voltage sensors, and that is driving the sensor counts through the roof.

Cores are being added, and virtualization layers are going on top of the blades. One strategy for decreasing operating expenses is to allocate new virtualized servers across different blades, so the shelf can maintain a uniform temperature. If you have 16 blades, and you are running all of your virtualization on only four of those, they are going to be very hot, and you will need lots of air conditioning to cool those four blades. It makes more sense to look at the shelf as an entity and spread out the virtual servers on other blades, thereby reducing the maximum temperature in the shelf. This approach makes it possible to save on cooling costs by raising the air temperature in the room.

JBlade’s expertise is getting the IPMI information out of the AdvancedTCA shelves so that these decisions can be made.

How has the way system managers convey IPMI information changed?

System managers are becoming more like video games. In the past, system managers have not had the high degree of feedback that a video games does, and that is changing because a high degree of feedback reduces operator training. Not all feedback is created equal, though.

There are open system pieces of software that are command-line-oriented. One such piece is called an IPMItool, and that kind of tool, or end user-created scripts, look at only a portion of an AdvancedTCA system. Compass has a periodic update cycle and presents the end user a unified view of the state of the shelf. For example, if you have pulled the blade out, it makes no sense to show you the power usage that was calculated 20 seconds ago. The blade is gone, and the previous power usage included the blade.

Compass also presents a consistent view of the number of Field Replaceable Units (FRUs) and their power usage. If we say the shelf is using 1500 watts, we know exactly which FRUs are using that, and we do not have a missing 300 watts that was sitting on a blade that disappeared x number of seconds ago.


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For a free download of the JBlade Compass AdvancedTCA System Manager Bronze edition, visit www.jblade.com.