NUMA systems are advanced server platforms with more than one system bus. They can harness large numbers of processors in a single system image with superior price to performance ratios.
For the past decade, processor clock speed has increased dramatically. A multi-gigahertz CPU, however, needs to be supplied with a large amount of memory bandwidth to use its processing power effectively. Even a single CPU running a memory-intensive workload, such as a scientific computing application, can be constrained by memory bandwidth.
This problem is amplified on symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) systems, where many processors must compete for bandwidth on the same system bus. Some high-end systems often try to solve this problem by building a high-speed data bus. However, such a solution is expensive and limited in scalability.
NUMA is an alternative approach that links several small, cost-effective nodes using a high-performance connection. Each node contains processors and memory, much like a small SMP system. However, an advanced memory controller allows a node to use memory on all other nodes, creating a single system image. When a processor accesses memory that does not lie within its own node (remote memory), the data must be transferred over the NUMA connection, which is slower than accessing local memory. Memory access times are not uniform and depend on the location of the memory and the node from which it is accessed, as the technology’s name implies.