Photos: The birth of a supercomputer

Photos: The birth of a supercomputer

Summary: Supercomputers are usually one-offs, but IBM is getting close to mass production at its supercomputing facility in Rochester, Minnesota. ZDNet UK went to take a look...

TOPICS: Emerging Tech

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  • Rochester is the home of the Blue Gene supercomputer, and is also the birthplace of the AS400. The man who developed both, IBM chief scientist Frank Soltis, believes that the weather in chilly Rochester helps to develop better engineers and scientists. "There is not much else to do here," he says.

    IBM claims that it supplies more than half the supercomputing capacity in the world, with 219 systems currently installed. The most prominent is Blue Gene, a much more powerful version of Deep Blue, the computer that beat chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov back in 1997.

    What makes Blue Gene so unusual in supercomputing circles is that it is wholly based on the Power PC architecture, instead of a proprietary processor. That's the Power 4 processor, too, not the faster, later Power 5.

    Power 4 is most suitable, IBM says, because it is not as highly clocked as other processors, so it produces less heat. The result is that Power 4 chips can be packed very closely together which helps in performance (cutting the distance travelled increases the speed of operations) and also lowers cost, as there is no need for expensive water-cooling.

  • This is the Blue Gene assembly area. The components are brought together here and assembled. The blue boxes to the left are a single unit under assembly. The racks will be assembled from left to right. The white boxes above the rack and then to the right are the air conditioning that will cool the system. A stack of boards is shown to the right of the picture.

Topic: Emerging Tech


Colin Barker is based in London and is Senior Reporter for ZDNet. He has been writing about the IT business for some 30-plus years. He still enjoys it.

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