Supercomputing Giants Drum Up Show Buzz

Leading makers of computers that perform massively
parallel transactions are gearing up for the Supercomputing 2003 conference
in Phoenix (Nov. 17-21) with a flurry of news announcements this week.


IBM HP, Sun Microsystems, Dell, SGI and Cray make up the bulk of vendors who craft machines capable of
making massive amounts of computing power available to customers.


All of the vendors are locked in fierce battle to garner new customers and
more market share in a segment commonly known as high performance computing,
or supercomputing, which employ grid and clustering
technologies to serve multiple systems linked together to act as a single
engine.


The fact that the machines are so large and employ so many servers and
clusters makes the contracts with major institutions that much more
valuable. IDC holds that the supercomputing market is worth around $5 to $6
billion and grows about 10 percent per year.

Issued from the company’s Deep Computing division, IBM and Corning inked a
contract with the government, unleashed a diskless InfiniBand supercomputer
for Mississippi State University and used AMD’s Opteron chips in a cluster
product.


Meanwhile, HP teamed with BAE Systems and three institutions to build an
advanced global computing grid for aerospace and defense design; Dell issued
a 34-node cluster to support Princeton University student and faculty
research; and a Sun executive discussed his company’s demonstrations at the
show.


Earlier this week, Big Blue joined forces with Corning in an agreement to
provide the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security a
Administration (NNSA)
on a $20 million project to develop optically switched interconnects for
supercomputers. The goal is to replace copper cables and electronic switches
with optical technology to boost network bandwidth by 50 times.


IBM said this will address a challenge in the design of high-performance
computer systems to match advances in microprocessor performance with
advances in
data transfer performance, noting that U.S. government agencies expect to
eventually scale supercomputers to thousands of nodes with interconnect
bandwidth of tens of gigabytes per second per node.


Corning’s Science & Technology Division will develop a prototype of an
optically switched interconnect. IBM Research Labs in the U.S. and
Switzerland will provide the system’s electronic control and monitoring
circuitry and will assist with the integration of the optical interconnect
modules provided by Corning to deliver a prototype system within 30 months.


Thursday IBM inked a major contract with Mississippi State University (MSU)
to install what will be the largest supercomputer powered by InfiniBand
connection technology. Financial terms of the deal were not revealed,
although an IBM spokesman confirmed that it was multi-million deal.


Dubbed “Maverick,” the massive cluster employs InfiniBand from Voltaire to
facilitate communications between 192 eServer Intel-based xSeries 335
servers, which will perform such tasks as testing the “crash-worthiness” of
new automobiles to make cars safer under the auspices of MSU’s Engineering
Research Center (ERC).


Other Maverick projects will include a “virtual wind tunnel,” which tests
the aerodynamics of automobiles, aircraft, and ships to increase performance
and fuel efficiency. The ERC is also researching how to predict the
formation of ice on aircraft wings to make flight safer.


ERC will shepherd Maverick through a number of tests, but one of the
attractive selling points in this deal is that Maverick can reduce the time
required to complete a test, saving companies thousands of dollars. The
combination of eServers and InfiniBand gave the ERC a 400 percent increase
in processing power over its current cluster, said David Marcum, Director of
the ERC SimCenter.


Dave Turek, vice president of IBM’s Deep Computing unit, said one of his
group’s goals is to extend the appeal of supercomputers for segments beyond
scientific organizations to financial services or digital media concerns.
But, he conceded, those companies need to be assured that those solutions
are practical, which is why they will wait to see if clusters are made
practical in scientific environments.


IBM, which has embraced Intel’s Itanium architecture as well as its own
Power chip line for servers, unveiled a pre-packaged super cluster based on
AMD’s Opteron. Turek told internetnews.com that IBM had little choice
in the matter. “Customers demanded it,” he said, noting that Opteron is
quite a natural migration to 32-bit and 64-bit systems from x86.


“You get to choose the rate and pace to move to 64-bit,” Turek said.
“There’s no forklift upgrade like there is with Itanium and the applications
are easy to deploy. The price/performance ratio makes it a really, really
good system.”


The new eServer 1350 can run 32- and 64-bit applications at the same time.
This product has a core for the new cluster in the form of the eServer 325,
which employs 48 Opteron 2GHz processors. The eServer Cluster 1350 combines
the eServer 325 to form a system with more management and storage systems to
provide customers more choice in setting up Linux clusters.


Like Maverick, the eServer 325 is designed for scientific and technical
computing customers. While it doesn’t leverage InfiniBand, Turek said its
high computing capability and integrated memory controller alleviate the
usual bottleneck issues. The eServer Cluster 1350 can be built with any
combination of IBM BladeCenter systems, x335 and x345 systems.


Other supercomputing news


HP, largely acknowledged as the HPC leader a year ago, Wednesday teamed with BAE Systems on a supercomputing venture for aerospace and defense
design.


The collaboration will be based on open standards like the Globus Toolkit
and the Open Grid Services Architecture, which combines Grid technology with
Web services. HP and BAE say they will develop improved security measures
for sharing Grid-enabled applications and data.


As the electronic systems used in the aerospace and defense sectors become
increasingly elaborate, the process of designing, visualizing and simulating
the operation of these systems becomes critical, HP and BAE said.


“Aerospace is on the leading edge of organizations that collaborate one day
and compete the next,” Sara Murphy, HP’s marketing manager for Grid
computing told internetnews.com sister site
Gridcomputingplanet.com.. “This is a wonderful opportunity to
understand the core issues of collaboration and virtual organizations. …
It’s a good proving ground for Grid’s commercial possibilities.”


In still other high-performance computing news is supplying a
high-performance computing cluster (HPCC) for anything from engineering and
physics to the study of the brain, mind and behavior at Princeton
University. The 34-node cluster will serve as a teaching tool for classes
and workshops in order to facilitate better training in computational
techniques and theory and serve as a testing ground for HPCC planning prior
to investing resources.


Dell said that because its HPCCs are based on open standards and powered by
the open-source Linux operating system, they typically operate at a lower
cost than supercomputers based on proprietary technology. The cluster is
comprised of 34 PowerEdge 2650 servers, each with two 2.4-gigahertz Intel
processors running the Red Hat Linux OS.


Let the Sun shine in


Meanwhile, building on the momentum of a $50 million high-performance
computing contract
with DARPA this past summer, Sun is sticking to its x86 guns, according to
Steve Perrenod, Group Manager, HPTC at Sun.


The executive said the company, which IDC said grew its HPC offerings 43
percent versus 30 percent for the overall market from 2002-2003, will sample
from its supercomputing, grid, and storage-oriented itinerary in Phoenix at
the show that will include 20 demos, 14 racks and 11 partners.


In an unusual move, Perrenod said Sun will work with the University of
California at San Diego to build a cluster live on the show floor with nodes
that can be ordered at random anywhere and in any software stack. It will
employ Sun’s Grid Engine software to perform tasks while the cluster is
being constructed. Demos will treat such topics as visualization, data
storage, cluster and grid computing, including the Sun Fire V60x Compute
Grid Rack System based on SPARC/Solaris and x86/Linux architectures.


Sun will also demonstrate its progress in deploying Linux-clustered
environments, as well as a high performance computing SAN
solution employing myriad heterogeneous technologies. Perrenod also
expressed confidence that Sun will regain lost traction on the all-important
Top 500 Supercomputer list, which is unveiled annually at the show.


“Our ranking has been down the last couple of lists, but we believe we will
be show progress with our large Linux clusters,” Perrenod told
internetnews.com. The vendor will also demo high-end superclusters
that use the company’s Sun Firelink interconnect technology. He also
predicted the rise of InfiniBand and the ability to employ optical
networking as interconnect technologies to be some trends to watch out for.


“We’re seeing more diversity in the solutions and architectures using
optical technology,” Perrenod said. “The price is still a little high but
the performance is there. I think a very big trend over the next few years
will be the notion of driving optics into computer system designs. It’s a
great opportunity.”

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