IBM to build Europe's biggest supercomputer

The supercomputer, capable of performing 3.6trillion calculations per second, is due to be switched on by the end of 2002
Written by Peter Galli, Contributor

Germany's Max Planck Society for the Advancement of the Sciences has awarded IBM a multimillion-dollar contract to build Europe's largest non-classified supercomputer, IBM announced to-day.

The deal, worth "tens of millions of dollars," will see IBM supply Max Planck with a supercomputer that incorporates a new eServer -- details of which have not been announced -- powered by Power4 microprocessors.

The supercomputer, which will be capable of 3.8 trillion calculations per second, will be delivered to Max Planck's Computer Centre in Garching, Germany, by the end of 2002, officials said.

David Gelardi, director of high-performance computing for IBM's eServer division, told eWEEK that this was the first announcement of an IBM win of a Power4-based eServer. Power4 is the advanced microprocessor that powers the next generation of IBM eServer systems, scheduled to begin shipping later this year.

"The Max Planck announcement points to one of Power4's two capabilities: its ability to do computationally intensive workloads. However, the same machine is also capable of performing well in commercial workload transaction processing and database and Web serving," Gelardi said.

The supercomputer is expected to consist of about a dozen 32-way Power4 systems in a large cluster, when completed, Gelardi said.

New technologies found in Power4-based systems include the Gigaprocessor, a computer chip that contains two processors and incorporates IBM's copper and silicon-on-insulator technology to operate in excess of 1GHz, Gelardi said.

Bandwidth has also been significantly improved, with bandwidth from Level 2 cache to the processors in excess of 100GB a second. "We have designed Power4 so that bandwidth increases in proportion to microprocessor frequency, thereby ensuring maximum scalability," he said.

Power4 also includes IBM's distributed switch interconnect architecture -- a new way of connecting devices that increases scalability by combining the benefits of bus and switch architectures. "Multiple modules can also be grouped to form a 32-way symmetric multiprocessor system," Gelardi said.

The supercomputer will include IBM's AIX operating system, an as-yet-undefined small storage component, as well as service and support for the machine.

The eServer pSeries 680, IBM's current high-end offering, and the predecessor to this machine, has a performance rating on par with Hewlett-Packard's Superdome and Sun Microsystems's E10000, Gelardi said. "But this machine is expected to have two times the performance of the p680," he added.

Stefan Heinzel, director of the Max Planck Computer Center, said the supercomputer would offer 10 times the application performance of the society's current supercomputer. It will allow the society to carry out research in the field of numerical simulations, helping its researchers tackle disciplines, such as polymer research, solid state physics, theoretical chemistry, fusion research, astrophysics and biochemistry.

"We hope to achieve a parameter-free description of instabilities at the atomic level in the helical structure of proteins that are assumed to be responsible for diseases such as Creutzfeld-Jakob and Alzheimer's," Heinzel said.

In January, IBM and the National Centre for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced they were working together to create the world's fastest Linux supercomputer in academia.

At that time, the NCSA said it would install two Linux clusters, which include more than 600 IBM eServer xSeries running Linux and Myricom's Myrinet cluster interconnect network.

Last year, Big Blue also put Linux on a 512-node cluster under the LosLobos supercomputer project at the University of New Mexico's Albuquerque High Performance Computing Center. LosLobos consists of 256 IBM Netfinity PC Servers.

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