[Beowulf] 10GbE Adapter Market

Bob Drzyzgula bob at drzyzgula.org
Tue Nov 19 06:26:18 PST 2013

Well, it is certainly the case that very little high-end product is sitting
around on shelves. As someone who has placed his share of orders with five
to seven figure bottom lines, I can attest to the fact that it is perfectly
typical to have to wait for your place in the production queue to come up
before you ever see your stuff. However, that actually isn't the point of
COTS, at least as it is defined in the FAR. Rather, the point is that the
product was engineered by the manufacturer on their own initiative, with
the intent of selling it to the general public. It doesn't even matter if,
for example, the product is Configure-to-Order, assembled out of COTS parts
as specified by customer, it is still COTS, because that ordering and
configuration process is set up for sales to the general public, on the
manufacturer's initiative.

Something is *not* COTS if the customer tells the manufacturer what to
build, and how to build it, to meet a unique need of the customer, and the
manufacturer then has no expectation that there would be any market for it
beyond that one customer, or possibly even that they will be granted no
rights to sell it to the general public. This process is where those
mil-spec hammers and toilet seats came from, and why they were so
expensive. The process is far from dead, however -- you can be certain that
the military is still ordering stuff -- radios for example -- that are
built to unique and even classified specifications. It's just that, under a
lot of scrutiny, the government eventually came to its senses and figured
out that maybe the hammers that Eastwing sells at the corner hardware store
will work just fine, or at least that the procedures that require the use
of a hammer can adjusted, at minimal cost, such that those will work. Then
again, from another perspective it is perhaps the case that this only
became possible when the quality control standards used in commercial
manufacturing processes finally rose to a level that one actually *could*
depend on a COTS product when the life of a soldier or astronaut depended
on it.

But from this perspective, very little computing equipment in use today is
anything but COTS. Perhaps some of the giant web services companies are
specifying custom computing devices, but I'd guess that the volumes
involved there are high enough that distinction becomes meaningless. It is
almost as if the Beowulf community taught the industry and the market
something that they more or less learned.

Perhaps the bigger remaining distinction, from an HPC perspective, is
between devices built around merchant silicon vs custom or captive designs.
While there is still a market for devices built around Power and SPARC
processors they are certainly not the focus of HPC cluster computing (I
note that less than 10% of the current Top 500 use anything but Intel or
AMD CPUs; Power/PowerPC accounts for most of those). Network equipment has
remained something of a bastion for products built around custom ASICs, but
even that is starting to crumble as designs built around the latest
merchant chips such as the Broadcom Trident II, together with protocols
such as SPB & TRILL, become competitive with big-iron chassis switch

When I think about the "SOHO" designation, though, I am thinking more in
terms of the commoditization of trailing-edge technology. Take a meander
down to MicroCenter and you'll find that "SOHO" network switches are still
being sold in high volumes with 100 Mbps ports; only the premium models
have gigabit ports. As a practical matter, a 100 Mbps switch is perfectly
suited to the task of connecting the half dozen workstations of an
insurance agent's office to a couple of printers and a 25 megabit Comcast
Internet link. This is the kind of application that those magazine writers
were thinking of when they coined the term, and it is only incidental that
some of that equipment will occasionally be useful to on-a-shoestring level


On Mon, Nov 18, 2013 at 10:49 PM, Mark Hahn <hahn at mcmaster.ca> wrote:

> interesting stuff about GSA lists.
> > A Netgear 16-port gigabit switch that sells for $200 is both SOHO and
> > A Cisco Nexus 7718 18-slot chassis switch is still COTS but in no way,
> > shape, manner or form SOHO.
> I like to treat COTS as more than merely "not bespoke",
> but really pret a porter, and the Target end of it too ;)
> that is, I suspect that there are not a bunch of $30k cisco switches
> on the shelf of the big distributors, and especially not in any
> local resellers or retail outlets.  the point is really that a COTS
> device is produced in large volume, with low margins.
> also, to some degree with conforming to public standards
> and being available from multiple vendors.
> for me, beowulf is all about doing supercomputer work with COTS hardware.
> regards, mark hahn.
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