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Virginia Tech Soups Up Xserve G5 Supercomputer

By Jennifer LeClaire MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Oct 26, 2004 9:26 AM PT

As if being the fastest university supercomputer wasn't enough, Virginia Tech's Power Mac G5-based machine just got an upgrade.

Virginia Tech Soups Up Xserve G5 Supercomputer

Dubbed System X, the supercomputer cluster has been ramped up to operate at 12.25 teraflops.

"This new number is an increase of almost two teraflops over the original System X," said Hassan Aref, dean of Virginia Tech's College of Engineering. "We are extremely pleased with the performance, using the new Apple machines."

Aref said the college initially chose a cluster of Power Mac G5 desktop computers to build the first System X because it was a fraction of the cost of other supercomputer components. The university migrated to Xserve in January to handle more advanced computational research.

Fastest University Computer

The Xserve G5, the most powerful Xserve yet, delivers more than 18 gigaflops of peak double-precision processing power per system and features the same revolutionary PowerPC G5, 64-bit processor used in Virginia Tech's original cluster of 1,100 Power Mac G5s.

The original System X ranked number three in the world, after Japan's Earth Simulator and ASCI Q, the Los Alamos National Laboratory's dedicated weapons computer, on last year top 500 list.

While analysts said Virginia Tech will get bumped out of the world's top-five ranking by supercomputers introduced by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), IBM and others, it could still be the fastest university supercomputer. The new list won't be released until November.

Jack Dongarra, a computer science professor at the University of Tennessee and one of the compilers of the top 500 list, told MacNewsWorld that IBM's new Blue Gene/L prototype and NNSA's new machine would easily beat out System X.

Ever Faster

"This is an exciting time," he said. "Supercomputer performance rates are doubling every 18 months. The reality is the machine is going to be used to do leading edge science. The fastest machines have the highest capabilities of doing that kind of leading edge science."

Blue Gene boasts about 36 teraflops today and is expected to reach about 200 teraflops as the project advances. This joint development will be part of the NNSA's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) Program.

IBM has already partnered with Lawrence Livermore on the ASCI program, delivering the world's current record-breaking supercomputer, the "ASCI White" machine now in operation at Lawrence Livermore.

NNSA's machine was developed through collaboration with SGI and Intel. NNSA integrated 20 512-processor SGIA Altix systems with a 500-terabyte SGI InfiniteStorage solution to create the Space Exploration Simulator.

Linux-Based Computer

Named Kalpana, in memory of astronaut Kalpana Cawla, one of the seven crew members aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia that broke up upon reentry in 2003, the machine will be among the world's largest Linux-based supercomputers powered by 10,240 Intel Intanium 2 processors.

As for Virginia Tech, its position on the top 500 list is a wait and see proposition.

"Virginia Tech will learn of its new ranking when the list is unveiled in November of this year at SuperComputing 2004 in Pittsburgh," said Srinidhi Varadarajan, the lead designer of the system. "We expect to do well."

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