IBM to wed game chip with mainframes

Big Blue and Brazilian start-up Hoplon will integrate Cell chip with mainframes to boost virtual-reality software.
Written by Stephen Shankland, Contributor
Marrying technology from opposite poles of the computer industry, IBM and a multiplayer online game company are working to integrate the Cell game console processor with Big Blue's mainframe computers.

Big Blue and Brazil-based Hoplon Infotainment are already partners, using the mainframe to host a beta version of a massively multiplayer online game. Through the new partnership, they'll work to integrate the Cell Broadband Engine with mainframes and Hoplon's virtual world infrastructure software, bitVerse, the companies are expected to announce Thursday.

The integration initially will be accomplished by networking the mainframe with IBM's Cell blades, but eventually the Cells will be plugged more directly into the mainframes via PCI adapter cards, IBM said. It's the latest twist in IBM's years-long effort to keep mainframes not only relevant but also cutting-edge.

IBM is touting the partnership as an example of hybrid computing--a trend sweeping the high-performance computing industry as companies augment general-purpose servers with special-purpose chips that to accelerate particular tasks. For example, Cell also is used in a Los Alamos National Laboratory supercomputer called Roadrunner.

Cell, the brains of the Sony PlayStation 3 game console, is good for some types of calculations--physics simulations, for example--that are useful in video games. IBM argues that will be useful as well in creating realistic virtual worlds.

Through the partnership, the Cell-augmented mainframe will run Hoplon's virtual-world middleware, called bitVerse, which currently is in development. To run, that software uses IBM's WebSphere XD and DB2 software, IBM said. The companies didn't disclose when they expect to produce results from their partnership.

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