Apple Servers Drive New EU Supercomputer

Updated: A distributed supercomputer is coming to the EU, and the high-performance cluster will be based on the Apple Xserve and Xserve RAID storage systems, says startup Omneta.

PARIS—A startup on Tuesday unveiled plans at the Apple Expo here to build a distributed supercomputer cluster that could use some thousands of Apple Computer Inc.s Xserve servers.

The high-performance network will be installed along Europes Internet backbone, startup Omneta plc. said. According to Omneta Chief Technical Officer Tony Clark, the startup, Apple and the European network powerhouse Interoute in October will stage a proof-of-concept cluster involving both Xserve servers and Xserve RAID arrays. If successful, the trial will be extended over the coming year to involve servers placed within Interoutes facilities, possibly involving as many as 150 data centers across 60 EU cities.

Omneta will sell access to the servers and their processors on a monthly or one-time basis, much as European telcos sell mobile phone service, with either a contract or pay-as-you-go basis. Although the build-out plan is subject to approval and customer demand, upon completion the total network could total "several thousand" Xserves and "several hundred" Xserve RAID arrays, Clark said.

The key, however, will be Interoutes servers, which connect to one another via a multigigabit fiber backbone that can carry over a petabit of traffic. According to Clark, the test will help determine the scalability of Apples own OS infrastructure, and determine whether or not such a distributed venture will even be possible.

Apple "provided significant support" for the project and may assist with the marketing of the project, Clark said.

Apple declined to comment on its involvement in the project at this time.

Other Apple clusters have been successfully tried before, most notably Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Universitys assembly of 1,100 Apple Xserve G5s at its TeraScale Computing facility. When asked why Omneta didnt try to build its own cluster at a single location, Clark replied that eventually any facility runs out of space.

"With a supercomputer, the original business model called for one location, one site. But that limited organic growth," he said. "What the proof-of-concept will prove is, is it feasible to do multiple sites?"

/zimages/2/28571.gifThe University of Illinois Turing Cluster is made up of 640 Xserve G5s and is listed as one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. Click here to read more.

The demonstration will initially involve just two sites, communicating information back and forth across the Interoute link. The test will involve 10 Xserves and two Xserve RAIDs, as observers closely eye network latencies. If successful, a third site will be added, while the first site is built out with more servers. From there, a fourth site will be added, while building out the second, and so on, he said. The build-out will take "no less than eight days, and not more than one year," Clark said.

Apple will not be the holdup, however. According to Clark, Apple representatives said the maker could supply "up to 500 servers per day."

On Tuesday, Omneta signed an MOU (memorandum of understanding) to purchase the Xserve and Xserve RAID arrays, Clark said, and has a similar MOU with Interoute to install the hardware at their facilities.

Interoute has "chalked off" areas in their facilities to install the hardware, Clark said, although the site location themselves are confidential. Omneta touts the sites as "secret, ultra secure and bombproof."

Omneta also said late Tuesday that it had signed an MOU with Swiss security specialist Livo Technologies SA to provide authentication services for its supercomputer project.

Omnetas management claims extensive military experience; Matthews "headed several major military organizations," according to a company bio, and held a board appointment with defense vendor Raytheon Co. Chief Executive Steven Windmill headed a contract for Britains Ministry of Defense, while Clark served as a communications systems analyst in the Royal Air Force. Company executives hold security clearances, Clark said.

In some sense, the network will function like a grid computer, potentially sharing resources across the network. However, Omneta will also be able to assure customers that the network will not share information outside of certain geographic boundaries. For example, a Swiss pharmaceutical company might be concerned that its data is stored or transmitted into a server elsewhere, Clark said.

To date, Omneta is self-funded to the tune of $4 million, according to Kevin OKeeffe, the companys chief commercial officer.

Omneta also developed two tools: Fetch!, a Sarbanes-Oxley compliance tool; and a facial-recognition software package called Komo, which the company will market as an entry-access and security package, he said.

/zimages/2/28571.gifApple recently updated its Xserve RAID storage line. Click here to read more.

Clark touted the proof-of-concept grid as another opportunity for Apple to test itself in the enterprise space. When asked why Omneta chose Apple as a hardware provider, Clark referenced a quote from Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who claimed that the PowerPC G5 was the most cost-efficient, highest-bandwidth processor in the data center.

Apples OS will receive a workout, too. "According to Apple, theoretically, the Tiger OS is infinitely scalable," Clark said. "Theoretically, in plain English, means that they dont know."

Editors Note: This story was updated to include comments from Apple.

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