Geekspeak: September 3, 2001

Supercomputer elite? Maybe not

The U.S. Department of Energys Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative White computer was publicly unveiled last month at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, in Livermore, Calif. ASCI White, built by IBM, has taken top honors among the worlds fastest supercomputers. At 12.3 teraflops, the classified system beats the computing capacity of the worlds No. 2 system, also from IBM, by a factor of about 3.

ASCI White, used for weapons research, is a behemoth: 8,192 CPUs, 6 terabytes of RAM and 160 terabytes of disk space. However, the technology behind ASCI White isnt as mysterious or specialized as one might think. Thanks to clustering software and fast networking interconnects, huge systems such as ASCI White can be assembled from standard commercial components—in this case, 512 RS/6000 SP servers running AIX, each with 16 Power3 copper-based 375MHz CPUs.

Data warehouses, Web servers and application servers all scale very well on clustered computer systems, meaning that ASCI White-type designs could end up being a lot more common in the future.