'Gordon' supercomputer uses flash to go faster

The system, which will use flash memory, will model climate simulations and the effects of earthquakes
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor on

A supercomputer which uses flash memory instead of traditional hard drives is to be developed by the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

The supercomputer, to be called 'Gordon', will use flash memory to speed computation, said San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) in a statement on Wednesday. The flash memory units in Gordon will be Intel High Performance solid state drives (SSDs), Intel said in a blog post on Wednesday.

In the SDSC statement, SDSC interim director Michael Norman said: "We are clearly excited about the potential for Gordon. This [high-performance computing] system will allow researchers to tackle a growing list of critical 'data-intensive' problems."

Norman said that Gordon would be used to analyse individual genomes to tailor drugs to specific patients; to develop more accurate models to predict the impact of earthquakes on buildings and other structures; and in climate simulations.

Gordon will use 32 'supernodes' that will exploit virtual shared-memory software to create large shared-memory systems in order to make computation faster. The supercomputer will use Intel's 2011-generation processors in its supernodes, said SDSC, while shared memory software will come from Scale MP, which sells high-end virtualisation products.

Each supernode will consist of 32 computing nodes, capable of 240 gigaflops per node -- one gigaflop or GF equals a billion calculations per second -- and 64 gigabytes (GB) of digital random access memory (DRAM).

The supernode will also have two I/O nodes, each with 4 terabytes (TB) of flash memory. Linked through virtual shared memory, each of the 32 supernodes will have the potential of 7.7 teraflops of computing power and 10 TB of memory.

SDSC expects Gordon to be among the top 30 supercomputers in the world when completed. The machine will have a total compute power of 245 teraflops, one teraflop being a trillion calculations per second. Gordon will also have 65 TB of DRAM, 256 TB flash memory, and four petabytes of disk storage. One petabyte (PB) is equivalent to one quadrillion bytes of data.

In its statement, SDSC said it had secured a $20m (£12m) grant to build the machine from the National Science Foundation, a US government agency.

When putting Gordon together, SDSC will build on earlier work making high-performance computers that use flash memory, including the Triton Resource and Dash systems. Dash uses micro-SSD flash technology commonly found in digital cameras, USB sticks, and netbooks.

New uses of technologies, such as the use flash and graphics processors, are at the forefront of supercomputer development efforts. In October Asus revealed a desk-top supercomputer that uses Nvidia graphics chips, cards, and cores.

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