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Appeared on: Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Sun, IBM Battle on Supercomputer Arena

Sun Microsystems and IBM revealed their latest Petaflop supercomputing systems, both aiming at the the top ranks of supercomputer manufacturers.

Sun introduced on Monday its Constellation System, a high-performance computing platform, while IBM immediately responded today with the announcement of its Blue Gene/P, the second generation company's supercomputer, which is claimed to nearly triple the performance of its predecessor, Blue Gene/L.

Sun's Constellation supercomputer

Sun's system provides 21 million flops (floating-point operations per second), potentially reaching 2 petaflops (Pflops).

Sun's Constellation will be installed at the Texas Advanced Computing Center along with other supercomputers and is a Linux cluster system, to be known as Ranger. It will have 3,288 nodes, starting out with 26,304 processing cores, using AMD's forthcoming Barcelona 4-core Opteron design, mounted on Sun blades. Ultimately, there will be 1,302 Opterons providing 52,608 cores.

The initial memory will be 52.6TB with a final RAM capacity of 105TB. This will be backed up with 1.73PB of disk storage. The system components are connected by InfiniBand with a 3,456-port central switch. Its total bandwidth is 110TB per second, and it connects 1,152 cables with 12 connections per wire.

The benefit of a big switch is that interswitch cables -- needed if smaller switches were used -- can be dispensed with, saving a lot of money as it's cheaper to build one big switch than link several smaller switches. Six times fewer cables are needed, in fact. Sun also said that the processors get a standard latency for data access this way.

It will need 3 megawatts of power to run, and a standard rack holds 768 cores.

Sun estimates that Constellation could scale to a 2-Pflop system with 1 exabyte of disk capacity.

IBM's New Blue Gene/P

IBM's Blue Gene/P system scales to operate continuously at speeds exceeding one "petaflop" -- or one-quadrillion operations per second. The system is 100,000 times more powerful than a home PC and can process more operations in one second than the combined power of a stack of laptop computers nearly 1.5 miles high. The Blue Gene/P supercomputer can be configured to reach speeds in excess of three petaflops, according to IBM.

The Blue Gene/P supercomputer is also at least seven times more energy efficient than any other supercomputer.

Like its predecessor, the Blue Gene/P supercomputer is a modular design, composed of "racks" that can be added as requirements grow.

Four IBM (850 MHz) PowerPC 450 processors are integrated on a single Blue Gene/P chip. Each chip is capable of 13.6 billion operations per second. A two-foot-by-two-foot board containing 32 of these chips churns out 435 billion operations every second, making it more powerful than a typical, 40-node cluster based on two-core commodity processors. Thirty-two of the compact boards comprise the 6-foot-high racks. Each rack runs at 13.9 trillion operations per second, 1,300 times faster than today's fastest home PC.

The one-petaflop Blue Gene/P supercomputer configuration is a 294,912-processor, 72-rack system harnessed to a high-speed, optical network. The Blue Gene/P system can be scaled to an 884,736-processor, 216-rack cluster to achieve three-petaflop performance. A standard Blue Gene/P supercomputer configuration will house 4,096 processors per rack.

The Blue Gene supercomputer operating system is based on the open-source Linux operating system. Applications are written in common languages such as Fortran, C and C++ using standards-based MPI communications protocols. The Blue Gene/P supercomputer is compatible with the diverse applications currently running on the Blue Gene/L supercomputer.


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