The new supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center will handle some of the biggest problems in physics, astronomy and medicine.
If everything is bigger in Texas,
then the new Sun supercomputer at the Texas
Advanced Computing Center
should fit right in.
Sun Microsystems and the University
of Texas, where the TACC facility
is located, will unveil the new Constellation system
at a Feb. 22 ceremony in Austin.
The new system, dubbed "Ranger," was made possible through a $59
million grant from the National Science Foundation.
At its peak, the Ranger machine offers 504 teraflops, or 504 trillion
calculations per second. Of the world's Top 500 supercomputers, IBM's
Blue Gene/L system,
which is installed at the Department of Energy's
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is currently listed as the world's top-performing
supercomputer with a maximum performance of 478.2 teraflops.
When fully functional, the Ranger system will work on some of the most important
problems in the worlds of physics, astronomy, geology and biology.
Doug Toussaint, a professor of physics at the University
of Arizona, is part of a team studying
quantum chromodynamics, the theory of strong interactions to describe the
relationship between quarks-the fundamental particles that create matter-and
gluons, which are the elementary particles that allow quarks to interact with
While Toussaint and his colleagues have only run limited experiments with
the Ranger system to this point, they said they hope to eventually use the
supercomputer to run simulations that will answer some of the fundamental
questions of particle physics, such as by determining the masses of different
types of quarks.
To develop better data, Toussaint and other researchers need access to
high-performance machines with much more computing power than those they
"You are always going to have some error just coming from your limited
statistics, and generally the size of these errors goes as one over the square
root of the number of the samples you can afford to generate," Toussaint
said. "So, if within all of these statistical errors, you get four
times the amount of computing power that you had before, [the number of errors
in the data decreases] by a factor of two. ... This is very exciting."
The next step for Toussaint and his team is testing different compilers to
see how the Ranger scales with different combinations of processors, and then
within a couple of weeks bring real production data applications to work with
the unveiling of Ranger marks a forceful return to the field of
supercomputers and HPC (high-performance computing).
For years, this particular part of the market has been dominated by IBM
and its line of supercomputers, including its Blue Gene/L systems. Now, both
Sun and IBM are looking to develop machines that
will pass the petaflop mark, or 1 quadrillion calculations per second. The
Constellation systems are Sun's first step in that direction.
The completed Constellation includes 82 Sun Fire blade server racks that
contain nearly 4,000 modules, a pair of Sun Magnum ultradense switches, an
InfiniBand host interface with 288 ports and next-generation Mellanox Technologies
HCA (high-contrast addressing). The Ranger
supports up to 123TB of memory and offers up to 1.7 petabytes of storage.
The unveiling is also a chance for the IT watchers to get a close look at Advanced
Micro Devices' quad-core Opteron processors,
which have been beset by
problems since the company introduced them to the market in 2007. The Feb. 22
event is a chance to preview the processors in a large-scale deployment before
other server vendors begin offering the quad-core Opterons in mainstream server
The TACC system will support a total of 15,744 Opteron processors.
The AMD processors that Sun and TACC are
using for Ranger still contain a bug the company described in December that
involves the chip's translation-lookaside buffer, which caused problems for
data being transferred from the Level 2 to the Level 3 cache. AMD
announced that a BIOS patch would fix any problems, and Sun and the
university's engineers applied a patch to Ranger to ensure that the system