IBM Builds Blade Supercomputer for Spain

In the latest supercomputer news arriving before the release of theTop500 list this week, IBM has announced collaboration with theSpanish government on a super system made with blade servers.

IBM said the “MareNostrum” system, built with 3,564 Power processors ineServer BladeCenter JS20 blade servers that run on the Linux operatingsystem, performs at a level that will make it the most powerful system in Europe and one of the five fastest in the world. Thesupercomputer, which will have 4,564 Power processors when fully configured,attained performance of 20.53 trillion floating point operations per second(teraflops).

According to Yankee Group senior analyst Dana Gardner, two things — innovationin vertically scaling systems larger and the use of standard hardware thatkeeps costs from matching performance — are driving the supercomputingprogress.

“The low cost [of hardware] and the innovation on vertical scaling andcooling are coming together,” Gardner told TechNewsWorld. “It is giving usthese benchmarks at prices people are willing to spend.”

Super by Blade

IBM said MareNostrum — to be used by the Spanish Ministry of Education andScience on genome, protein, weather, pharmaceutical and other research –marks the first time that blade server technology has been used to win a top 10ranking among supercomputers.

The system, assembled at an IBM facility in Spain in less than twomonths, will be delivered to Politecnic University of Barcelona, where it isexpected to be available for Spanish and international researchers in thespring of 2005.

“Scientists across varying disciplines can now tap incredible computingpower to drive research breakthroughs that will lead the scientificcommunity into a new age of research and innovation,” said a statement fromBrian Connors, vice president for Linux on Power at IBM.

Selling Speed

The Yankee Group’s Gardner pointed out that while supercomputers represent “atiny, tiny part of the market,” manufacturers such as IBM, SGI, Japan’s NECand others are increasingly using the powerful systems as a sales vehicle.

“A lot of what we’re seeing is flagship sports car marketing coming tocomputers,” Gardner said. Companies “are tripping over each other inbenchmarks and saying, ‘By the way, this was built with the same hardwareyou can get for your business.'”

Gardner said the showmanship was being accompanied by wider access to thesupercomputing idea. Companies may want to scale more horizontally tohandle more users or more hits on their Web sites, but they can do so with thesame scalability being used for supercomputing advances.

Supercomputing experts agreed that while issues of heat and manageabilityremain challenges, the supercomputing innovation and exponential speedincreases are likely to continue.

Erich Strohmaier, a co-editor of the Top500 Fastest Supercomputer Site, told TechNewsWorld that companies and governments continue to investin maintaining supercomputing advances, which have risen from levels of 12teraflops a few years ago to today’s leaps to 40- and 70-teraflopperformance.

IBM Research vice president of systems Talik Agerwala said the use oflow-energy, low-power processors and innovative interconnection technology,for example, would allow the progress to continue.

“I expect at the system level, performance will continue to growrapidly,” Agerwala told TechNewsWorld.

Study of Life

IBM and Spanish officials indicated MareNostrom would be applied primarilyto research in the life sciences and healthcare areas. Some examples of thestudy planned with the supercomputer include researching the human genome,protein folding and other complex processes related to diseases such asAlzheimer’s; atmospheric phenomenon and the evolution of climate; predictionand effects of natural disasters; and biodiversity and the balance ofecosystems.

“The supercomputer is a tool for the Spanish scientific community, makingpossible the development of projects that, until now, could only beconducted at international centers,” said an IBM statement. “As a result,scientists will be able to devise and conduct much more ambitious projects,giving a dynamic boost to the Spanish scientific program.”

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