High-End Linux Clusters Will Serve Scientific Applications

IBM and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) last week announced plans to build a pair of high-performance Linux clusters that will provide 2 TFLOPS of computing power for use in scientific applications.

A Pentium-based system is scheduled to be installed next month at the NCSA at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. A companion setup using Intel Corp.'s upcoming 64-bit Itanium chip is scheduled to follow in the 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 processing power that researchers will need to further analyze Albert Einstein's theory of relativity and to conduct other scientific and engineering queries. These projects include simulating the violent collision of black holes and the gravitational waves they produce.

"You could solve these problems on your desktop [computer], but you may have to wait 10,000 years to get the answer," Reed said.

Hundreds of Servers

The initial cluster will include 512 of IBM's eServer x330 thin servers, each equipped with two 1 GHz 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 Brisbane, Calif.-based TurboLinux Inc.'s version of the open-source operating system.

The two systems will be linked 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 the work being done at the 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's plans follow the announcement of several other Linux-based supercomputers and high-performance clusters in recent months. For example, the oil exploration unit of the Hague-based Royal Dutch/Shell Group last month announced that it is working with IBM to build a system that will link 1,024 servers to analyze seismic data as part of the search for new sources of oil.

Copyright © 2001 IDG Communications, Inc.

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