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IBM Goes Green in Sweden

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What better place to build a supercomputer than northern Sweden? Just leave the data center’s windows open and let Mother Nature handle the cooling.

No Stockholm Syndrome here. Just a 50 teraflop machine running Xeon, Power 6 and Cell processors with Linux and Windows operating systems.

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IBM Tuesday announced at the Top 500 supercomputer conference that it and Umeå University, almost 500 miles north of Stockholm, have installed the most powerful Windows-based computer in Europe, called Akka, which runs a mix of Xeon, Power 6 and Cell processors.

Akka runs at 46 teraflops per second of sustained performance and can hit bursts of 54 teraflops, which will put it in the top 50 of the Top 500 list, a list issued twice per year of the fastest supercomputers in the world.

The primary processor for Akka is Xeon. The system is based on 672 IBM HS21XM blades that run Intel’s 2.5 GHz L5420 Xeon processor, which has a power draw of only 50 watts. Each blade has two of the quad-core processors, for a total of 5,376 processor cores.

There are also four Power 6 blades and two Cell blades, with one processor each. The Cell-based blades run the QS22, a modified version of the Cell processor from its original design, which is used in the Sony PlayStation 3 gaming console. The system also includes IBM DS4800 Storage and uses high-speed interconnect InfiniBand and Ethernet interconnects.

Not Just Another Supercomputer

Akka is not just another super-dense supercomputer capable of running a lot of processes. Andreas Ryden, Nordic sales manager for IBM’s High Performance Computing market, said he’s excited about two aspects of the computer: its low power requirements, relative to supercomputers, and its ability to run Windows. “Windows” and “supercomputers” don’t usually go together, after all.

“What makes it special is it’s very green,” Ryden told “It uses about 40 percent less energy and electricity for a supercomputer of the same size.”

Because of its mix of processors, “It gives researchers a chance to use other technologies, not just Power but Cell as well,” added Ryden.

The computer is based at the High Performance Computing Center North (HPC2N) at Umeå University and will be used by researchers all over Sweden, according to Ryden.

It will be used in a wide range of areas, including space science, material science, bioinformatics, theoretical physics and chemistry, engineering sciences, as well as basic research in parallel algorithms, library software and middleware for grid infrastructure.

The Windows operating system is Windows HPC Server 2008, which uses the cluster computing technology Microsoft has been developing for the past few years.

“Very few supercomputers use Windows,” said Ryden. “What we know today is users are using Linux because that’s their only choice, and we think this will open doors for new research groups to submit jobs on Windows.”

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