IBM, supercomputing center building high-end Linux clusters

IBM and a key supercomputing research center today announced plans to build a pair of high-performance Linux clusters that will be built around Intel Corp.'s Itanium and Pentium processors and provide two teraflops of computing power for use in scientific applications.

The Pentium-based system is scheduled to be installed next month at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, while a companion setup using Intel's upcoming 64-bit Itanium chip is scheduled to follow next summer. Together, the two clusters will consist of almost 700 IBM servers running Linux.

Dan Reed, director of the NCSA, said the machines will provide the needed processing power to allow researchers to further analyze Albert Einstein's theory of relativity and to conduct other scientific and engineering queries. For example, planned uses include simulating the violent collision of black holes and the gravitational waves that produces.

"Any time you have a new, faster machine, it opens up things you can explore that simply weren't feasible before," Reed said. "Yes, you could solve these problems on your desktop [computer], but you may have to wait 10,000 years to get the answer."

The initial cluster will include 512 of IBM's eServer x330 thin servers, each equipped with two 1GHz Pentium III processors and Research Triangle Park, N.C.-based Red Hat Inc.'s version of Linux. Plans call for the Itanium-based system to be outfitted with 160 servers that will run TurboLinux Inc.'s version of the open-source operating system. The two systems will be linked together using cluster interconnect technology developed by Myricom Inc. in Arcadia, Calif.

Dave Gelardi, director of IBM's Deep Computing Linux cluster group, said the computer maker hopes that the work being done at NCSA and other supercomputing sites will eventually lead to Linux-based applications for corporate users. "It's our intention to take this work and move it into commercial [settings]," Gelardi said, listing Web servers and collaborative computing systems as possible avenues for the technology.

The NCSA plans follow the announcement of several other Linux-based supercomputers or high-performance clusters in recent months. For example, the oil exploration unit at Royal Dutch/Shell Group in The Netherlands last month announced that it was working with IBM to build a system that will link together 1,024 servers and be used to analyze seismic data as part of the search for new sources of oil (see story).

For more coverage of Linux-related matters, head to our Linux News & Features page.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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