Punching Up Processing Power

IBM, SGI, Sun boost speed in their supercomputing boxes and tools.

IBM, SGI and Sun Microsystems Inc. next week will roll out new and upgraded systems and tools aimed at increasing the amount of data their supercomputers can handle and the rate of speed at which they move and compute that data.

The systems will provide vast amounts of processing power for enterprises and researchers running applications that call for increased processing power, such as in complex simulations and computer-generated graphics.

At the Supercomputing show next week in Baltimore, IBM will introduce its eServer p655 server, which can be equipped with up to eight 1.1GHz P4 processors. By linking 16 of the p655s in a rack, an enterprise essentially creates a 128-processor supercomputer, according to IBM, of Armonk, N.Y.

The p655 will ship next month; a four-node system is priced at $73,995.

Also at the show, SGI, formerly known as Silicon Graphics Inc., will unveil the Origin 3900 supercomputer. It packs four times the amount of computational performance into the same space that its predecessors occupy, according to officials with the Mountain View, Calif., company. The 3900, available now, will scale to 512 processors and 1 terabyte of memory.

SGI will also announce new workflow optimization features in its proprietary Irix 64-bit Unix operating system, which is featured in the Origin 3000 line. The SGI Irgo HPC (high-performance computing) workflow software features SGI MIPSpro compilers that enable developers to create code more quickly. It also includes a parallelization option to help programmers developing parallel code. Security features include Trusted Irix with multilevel data classification.

For its part, Sun will announce the beta version of an upgrade to its HPC Cluster Tools software, which enables developers to link computing resources for such work as parallel application development. Version 5 of the middleware will feature scalability up to 256 computing nodes—Version 4 can connect 64 boxes—and will include the MPI-2 message passing standard. Also new is integration with the Sun Open Net Environment Grid Engine and support for the Solaris 8 and 9 operating systems.

The clustering tools will also include parallel debugging and performance analysis capabilities, according to officials at Sun, of Santa Clara, Calif. The beta is available as a free download; general availability is slated for early next year, they said.

While such off-the-shelf products may be good for some compute-intensive applications in the energy, manufacturing, science and defense fields, one supercomputer user said customized solutions are still necessary.

Rather than use processors built for high-transaction applications, supercomputing companies need systems with chips that have faster peak speed, said Horst Simon, director of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center and an IBM user.

"All the processors have improved speed, which is good, but the peak speed is slowing down," said Simon, in Berkeley, Calif. "The processors are made for applications that are different from what were doing."

Simon said vendors are beginning to come around. For example, the center and IBM have been discussing a Power5 chip for a project that could increase peak speed more than three times, he said.