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Pentagon turns to Linux for high-end battlefield simulations

It's using two new Linux Networx Evolocity cluster supercomputers

By Todd R. Weiss
August 17, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The U.S. Department of Defense is now relying on two 256-processor Linux Networx Evolocity cluster supercomputers to improve on complex computerized battlefield simulations.
The new machines are part of the Pentagon's continuing technology update program (see story), which is bringing in powerful hardware to help expand the nation's military research and development capabilities.
In an announcement today, Salt Lake City-based Linux Networx Inc. said that each of the clusters was delivered and installed at Defense Department high-performance computing centers in Hawaii and Ohio.
Maj. Kevin Benedict, program manager at the U.S. Air Force Maui High Performance Computing Center (MHPCC) in Hawaii, said the new machines replaced a 3-year-old, 512-processor cluster that wasn't powerful enough to conduct the more complicated military simulations now being done by the agency.
The other 256-processor cluster was installed at the Aeronautical Systems Center Major Shared Resource Center (ASC MSRC) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio -- another facility in the department's High Performance Computing Modernization Program (HPCMP).
The military simulations can create a battle between U.S. forces and an enemy that involves a combination of about 1 million troops, tanks, vehicles, and weapons such as mortars and ground artillery, ships and aircraft. The new supercomputer allows military personnel to conduct simulations involving far more personnel and weapons than ever before, Benedict said.
David Morton, technical director at the MHPCC, said the Linux clusters were chosen because the Defense Department's procurement program found that they provided the best price/performance ratio for the project.
"This is still bleeding edge, but it will eventually be used for training" military personnel, Morton said. "It's still in the lab, but these same capabilities will move out to support actual war [battles]."
The Department of Defense Joint Forces Command (J9) is using the clusters to simulate combat operations on a worldwide virtual battlefield, according to the agency. Military personnel at J9 and other sites around the country can interact directly with the computers at the MHPCC and ASC MSRC as they participate in large-scale, high-resolution combat simulations that weren't possible with the old hardware.
Each of the Linux Networx clusters delivered to MHPCC and ASC MSRC includes 256 dual Intel Xeon 3.06-GHz processors, disk storage from DataDirect Technologies, Gigabit Ethernet technology, and the Clusterworx and Icebox management tools from Linux Networx.
The clusters are part of a larger contract Linux Networx won with the defense agency earlier this year to deliver a total of six cluster computer systems to HPCMP centers, including a 2,132-processor system Linux Networx is now building for the Army Research Laboratory.
"The fact that the Departmentof Defense is using Linux clusters in a production environment is a significant step forward for this technology," Jeff Graham, deputy director at the ASC MSRC, said in a statement. "Linux Networx focuses on delivering high-productivity clusters, and we are excited about the current and potential future contributions clusters are making in servicing the HPCMP's customer base."

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