Though Virginia Techs "Big Mac" cluster in November quickly shot to third place on the most accepted list of top supercomputers, representatives from the project said they expected to see improved cost/performance numbers once the changeover is effected.
Doug Brooks, Apples project manager for server hardware, pointed out that the new server models, which are based on twin IBM 2GHz 64-bit PowerPC 970 processors, will not ship until February. He noted that the move to Xserves could take up approximately one-third the rack space and use "somewhere around 60 percent" the power of the existing Big Mac configuration, partially due to the Xserves CPUs being built on a 90-nanometer process, as opposed to the Power Mac G5s 130-nanometer-based PowerPC 970s.
The new Xserve G5s will also mark the debut of ECC (error-correcting) RAM in an Apple product, Brooks said, and should result more reliability in the calculation of problems.
Eric Zelenka, Apples project manager for server software, added that the new Xserves will come with Mac OS X 10.3 Server, also known as Panther Server, which includes optimizations for the G5 processor. He was also reluctant to quantify how that could effect the projects overall results, but he said that Panther Server "has a kernel capable if taking advantage of the G5s 64-bit capabilities." He added that though the entire operating system isnt certified as 64-bit, "key components" such as the math routines, memory systems and image libraries were, while maintaining compatibility with existing 32-bit applications.
Brooks said that Virginia Tech will be using the cluster node model of the Xserve G5, which will all be fitted with the InfiniBand PCI cards previously installed in the Power Mac G5 computers.
He also said that though Apple has no plans to market a "supercomputer in a box," noting that high-end computing sites require too much custom configuration, Apple is offering a workgroup cluster product, a turnkey system for up to 16 computing nodes, similar in configuration to (if smaller than) the Virginia Tech installation.
Apple representatives declined to discuss any business deals between the company and Virginia Tech. Brooks said, however, that the university used no special channels in purchasing their Xserve G5s. "They contacted us after Macworld Expo San Francisco [where the Xserve G5 was announced] and expressed their interest," Brooks said.
Virginia Techs system changeover is expected to be completed by May.