Hardware Today: Supercomputing Gets Low-End Extension Page 2

No. 2 on the Top 500 list is a Linux-based cluster used at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View. Calif. Named Columbia, this SGI Altix system is driven by Linux and 10,240 Intel Itanium 2 processors.

“Linux is doing very well and high performance computing buyers seem to like its advantages, such as being able to switch hardware over time,” said Earl Joseph a supercomputing analyst at IDC. “Itanium 2 performs well on many codes so the combination is a good fit, especially for customers who want high performance.”

Columbia achieved 51.87 teraflops (trillions of calculations per second) in recent tests, according to Top500.org. Previously, NASA Ames had been using SGI Origin computers running on IRIX, a Unix variant.

“IRIX was a very mature operating system and Linux doesn’t yet have all of its features quite yet,” said Bob Ciotti, Terascale Systems Lead at NASA. “But it has matured much more rapidly than IRIX and is getting there very fast.”

Formerly top on the list, NEC’s Earth Simulator supercomputer at the Earth Simulator Center in Yokohama, Japan, is now number three. Its Linpack benchmark performance is 35.86 Tflop/s.

The top 10 also includes the IBM-built MareNostrum cluster installed at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (No. 4 with 20.53 Tflop/s), California Digital Corp.’s Thunder — an Intel Itanium 2 Tiger4 1.4 GHz Quadrics machine (No. 5 with 19.9 Tflop/s), HP’s ASCI Q AlphaServer SC45 (No 6. with 13.9 Tflop/s), and the Virginia Tech X-system, sometimes referred to as ‘SuperMac’ due its use of Apple’s Xserve servers (No. 7 with 12.25 Tflop/s).

“Apple’s use of the POWER processor gives them 64-bit performance at a value price,” said Gartner Group analyst John Enck.

How Super is Super?

The numbers above, however, will likely be overshadowed by developments during the course of 2005. IBM, for example, plans to install a 360 Teraflop IBM Blue Gene/L supercomputer in the first half of 2005 at the DOE National Nuclear Security Agency. And as the boundaries of compute power expand ever upward, what currently rates as super may soon be expected.

“Five years ago, the most powerful supercomputer in the world was 1 T/flop,” said Turek. “In 10 years, 10 T/flops will be ho hum.”

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