Another reason to love Linux: SiCortex offers high-performance computing in an astonishingly energy-efficient format

If you're looking to supplement your trading floor applications, business analytics infrastructure or Internet site capacity, SiCortex has a proposition for you: a 72-processor high-performance Linux platform with CPUs that use just 0.6 watts of electricity each.

If you're looking to supplement your trading floor applications, business analytics infrastructure or Internet site capacity, SiCortex has a proposition for you: a 72-processor high-performance Linux platform with CPUs that use just 0.6 watts of electricity each. In other words, this is a high-performance computer that is designed to use less electricity than a single desktop PC.

Chris Stone, president and CEO of SiCortex, which is based in one of Digital Equipment's old building in Maynard, Mass., says the SC072-PDS system uses MIPS proceessor technology as its foundation. Another major architectural differentiator is the custom-designed backplane, which makes for a more efficient interconnect. The explanation really begs a visual demo, which is the intent of this animation posted on the SiCortex web site for your reference. The systems run Linux; "This is not a machine you'd run Oracle on, this is a machine that you would use to augment that," says Stone.

Plus, here's an idea of how big (or small) these systems can be:

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The smallest system is about the size of a Macintosh G5 machine, runs at 300 watts and is priced starting around $25,000, up to $1 million depending on the configuration involved. The systems support from 72 to 5,832 processors. (Universities get discounts.) When I spoke with Stone a few weeks back, the company has sold 54 computers to customers including the University of Colorado, University of Tennessee, Yale University, Purdue University and the Department of Defense.

So how much more efficient, really, are these systems than the alternatives built around server architectures from industry leaders Intel and Advanced Micro Devices? We've got some months to wait before the government releases any sort of Energy Star-like ratings for servers, pending the results of its ongoing benchmark projects. There IS the Green500 ranking that rates the greenest of the world's top supercomputers.

But Stone and company are proposing an additional set of benchmarks that are specifically focused on energy efficiency from the get-go. Their proposal is called the Green Computing Performance Index , which measures overall system performance per watt using the seven tests in the High Performance Computer Challenge benchmark suite. The benchmarks take a much closer look on system performance relative to the power consumed; they were developed by Jack Dongarra at the University of Tennessee and are considered to be industry-standard. So, even those SiCortex is advocating them, they didn't have a hand in developing them.

You can submit your opinions about the benchmark proposal here. SiCortex is also encouraging data center managers and computer vendors to run the benchmarks and submit results here. Have at it.

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