UK academics get £53m supercomputer

The Power4-based supercomputer, built using a cluster of P690 servers, should give the UK's e-science programme a significant boost

UK researchers are to have access to the largest scientific supercomputing service in Europe by the end of the year, following a deal to build a £53m supercomputer near Warrington in Cheshire.

The supercomputer has been commissioned by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and will be maintained by a consortium led by the University of Edinburgh, with the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC) and IBM. It will be a key component in the UK e-science programme, and will be connected to the Research Councils' emerging new computing resources infrastructure, called the UK Grid.

IBM will build the supercomputer, which will comprise a cluster of its P690 servers. Each P690 can be configured with up to 32 Power4 chips in a very highly integrated arrangement; each chip has two Power4 processor cores, and four chips are assembled together on what is called a multi-chip module (MCM). The supercomputer will run IBM's AIX operating system.

The supercomputer will provide an initial capability of 6.7 2 teraflops (trillions of calculations per second), said IBM. This performance will be upgraded to more than 11 teraflops in 2004 and to 22 teraflops in 2006. An IBM spokesperson said there would be 40 P690 servers in the initial cluster, containing 1260 processor cores. Such performance would rank the supercomputer among the fastest in the world by today's standards. The world's fastest supercomputer is currently NEC's Earth Simulator, which churns out 35.9 trillion calculations per second, though this is significantly faster than its nearest competitor.

The EPSRC's supercomputer would be on par with an Intel-based Linux cluster that the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California plans to build. This Evolocity cluster, which will be the world's largest and most powerful Linux supercomputer, will consist of 962 nodes running on 1,920 Intel Xeon processors, and will have a theoretical peak of 9.2 teraflops. The supercomputer will be located at the CCLRC's Daresbury Laboratory. It is to be used for applications such as drug design, flight simulation and analysis of the earth's structure, said the council.


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