IBM Takes a Building Brick Approach with ‘IceCube’

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IBM this week said its scientists are creating a modular system that allows for more storage and server devices to be attached closer together in a smaller space.

Scientists at the company’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif. are configuring a dense array of storage and switches built up as a 3D cubic array of simple building blocks – or “bricks.” The project – originally dubbed “IceCube” – is now being called “Collective Intelligence Bricks.” Similar to an ice cube tray in the freezer, the switching fabric coexists with the storage, connecting each brick with its immediate neighbors.

The project is separated into software and hardware aspects. IBM says the software is a complex system that could run on any type of hardware and would know how to reroute information when one brick is non-fucntioning as well as other autonomic aspects.

“While we are focusing on the storage array application, the extensions of this framework to other mixtures of CPU-intensive or communications-intensive function are evident, and require solving many of the same problems,” IBM said in its original white paper.

IBM Almaden Research Center spokesperson Mike Ross told, while the company has not sent the project to its nuts and bolts designers, they are in constant contact with their production teams to find out how to market the project to businesses.

“The aspect that has really caught people’s attention is the advanced hardware aspects of capacitive coupling,” Ross said. “Because the bricks are close together, you wouldn’t have couplers that would be connected to each other with wires. The individual bricks can be cooled with water-cooled rails. This is of course the industrial mockup. The first software units tested would be on racks of servers. The ‘brick’ hardware would be tested independently and eventually the two would be brought together.”

Visualizing the prototype is easy if you consider a dozen of the 100 GB laptop disks (2.5″ in diameter) that the storage industry will be able to deliver in the next few years, packed into a cube roughly 15 cm on a side, with a CPU and a fast (e.g. Infiniband) 1GB/sec (or 8 Gbps) switch. The switch connects each little “brick” only to its neighbors in a cubic pile of such bricks that could be stacked or slid around as needed.

The prototype is a 3x3x3 array, but Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM says a 10x10x10 array of these bricks would hold 1.2 petabytes (PB) of data, in a volume of a little over 3 cubic meters. Even if each brick is reading or writing data to the outside world at 100 MB/sec, for a total of 100GB/sec, that bandwidth can be provided by the switches on just one face of the array.

The total internal bandwidth of the array is 6TB/sec, although it is far from clear how to use all of that at the same time.

Researchers say there are four significant problems to be solved to make this array a reality: get power in; get the heat out; manage the communications; and make the whole assembly reliable, always available and inexpensive to maintain.

While Ross says cubes are probably biometrically better for optimizing the arrays, the bricks could be configured into rectangular arrays to suit the needs of the client.

This story originally appeared on Internet News.

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