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Sun builds Constellation of petascale supercomputing

New architecture built with standard components

November 11, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Sun Microsystems Inc. is releasing a new high-performance computing (HPC) system that it said has the potential to create one of the largest supercomputers on the planet, reaching petascale.

Sun calls it the Constellation System. It's built on mainstream operating systems and hardware, but uses clusters and a new storage system, the Sun StorageTek 5800. That system can hold up to half a petabyte of storage per rack.

Sun's HPC cluster architecture uses chips from Intel Corp., Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and its own UltraSparc chips, and it supports Linux, Solaris and Windows operating systems. Each chassis can hold up to 48 blades. Sun also designed this system with InfiniBand switches.

Bjorn Andersson, director of HPC and integrated systems at Sun, said HPC users have already been assembling components into large systems. What Sun has done is to take general-purpose, industry-standard products coupled with open-source software and "designed it as an open, scalable architecture," he said.

The Constellation system can scale up to 2 petaflops, said Andersson. (A petaflop is the equivalent of 1,000 trillion floating-point operations per second.)

A Linux-based Constellation-class system named "Ranger" using 15,000 AMD quad-core Barcelona chips is already under construction at the University of Texas at Austin's Texas Advanced Computer Center (TACC). That system, which could become the world's largest supercomputer when it's completed next year, is capable of peak performance at 504 teraflops, or about half a petaflop.

The only limit to scaling the Constellation is the price tag associated with building out these systems. TACC representatives said the Texas system alone is costing some $30 million.

Sun hopes to make the Constellation easy to deploy and said that it is offering a service to build and configure to customer specifications. That kind of supercomputer-in-a-box approach is becoming common as vendors release products intended to make it easy for new HPC users to adopt the technologies.

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