IBM delivers Europe's biggest supercomputer

It has 1,312 processors, 41 pSeries servers and it takes a Boeing 747 to carry it. It's Europe's most powerful supercomputer - but in future, powerful won't necessarily mean big, says IBM

IBM this week delivered Europe's largest supercomputer, a 1,312-processor cluster based on 41 of the company's p690 servers, to Germany's Research Centre Juelich, one of Europe's leading scientific institutes.

Scientists will be able to access the supercomputer's power and collaborate on projects through the UNICORE grid, the development of which was coordinated by the Research Centre Juelich. One of the first areas to benefit from the supercomputer is a project using complex mathematical models to predict the diffusion of harmful materials in soil. Using computer-simulated models, scientists can calculate the flow of water underground and simulate the way in which various harmful substances react with potentially damaging consequences.

"Today, the natural sciences regard computational techniques as a third pillar alongside experiment and theory", said Dr. Thomas Lippert of Juelich. "Examples are large-scale data processing to screen for a new drug or the simulation of systems with infinite variables in the fields of theoretical chemistry, physics or computational biology. For many problems in solid state or high energy physics, only computer simulations can provide the missing link between empiricism and theory."

Supercomputers are becoming increasingly strategic for IBM, said Adalio Sanchez, general manager for the pSeries Systems Group at IBM. "They allow us to push the limits, and work on more compact, dense supercomputers that are more viable for commercial enterprises."

The 41 servers that make up the Juelich supercomputer, said Sanchez, were shipped over on a Boeing 747: "putting them all together is a very complex operation."

The Juelich supercomputer is managed by IBM's Cluster Systems Management (CSM) software based on AIX 5.2. Cluster nodes interconnected via the pSeries High Performance Switch, providing a redundant low-latency and high-bandwidth communication network to all processors.

Users have access to 60 terabytes of data capacity -- the equivalent of 60 trillion bytes, or roughly 60 million 1,000-page-books. Juelich will be capable of a peak performance of 8.9 teraflops -- the equivalent of 8.9 trillion operations per second, said IBM.

Future supercomputers will be far more modular and pack more computing power into a much smaller space, according to Sanchez, who said it will soon be possible to build a 1 cubic metre supercomputer that can achieve 1 teraflops.

IBM's forthcoming Blue Gene/L, which Sanchez said will be more powerful than the current list of Top 500 supercomputers put together when it is finished in a couple of years' time, will be significantly smaller than current IBM supercomputers such as ASCI White, a nuclear weapons simulation machine at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which will also be the home of Blue Gene/L. ASCI White takes up the area of two basketball courts, or 9,400 square feet, while Blue Gene/L should fit into half a tennis court, or about 1,400 square feet.