IBM's Latest Cell Blade Looks to Boost HPC

The BladeCenter QS22 uses a new version of IBM's Cell processor.

IBM is preparing to release a new BladeCenter system that uses an updated version of its Cell processor and looks to boost the company's portfolio of high-performance computing products.

The BladeCenter QS22 is the latest blade system that IBM has built around the Cell Broadband Engine Architecture it codeveloped with Toshiba and Sony for use in game consoles. While the new blade will not be available until June, IBM is planning to release some details and pricing May 13.

Since 2006, IBM has looked to the Cell processors to create a new type of HPC (high-performance computing) technology that focuses on providing a better platform for applications that are visually or graphically intensive.

The QS22 BladeCenter blade that IBM will detail May 13 is based on a new variation of the Cell processor called the PowerXCell 8i, which is to have the same number of processing cores-nine-and the same clock speed-3.2GHz-as the previous generation of Cell chips.

An IBM spokesperson said the new chip would allow the QS22 blade to process data five times faster than the previous generation of BladeCenter systems, specifically by increasing its performance from single-precision to double-precision computing, which doubles the blade's capacity to process data.

A 42U (73.5-inch) rack with 56 BladeCenter QS22 blades offers 12.18 teraflops (trillion floating point operations per second) of double-precision performance, according to IBM.

Imaging to quadruple

Joe Clabby, president of Clabby Analytics, said IBM is using the very fast backplane of its blade architecture to experiment with different types of processor architecture to address different computing needs. With its Cell technology, Clabby said, he believes that IBM will use these types of blades to address the growing number of images companies in the health care field need to process everyday.

"The reason that they would be using it for imaging environments is that Cell processors do an extremely great job of processing large amount of image data," Clabby said. "There's this belief that the amount of imaging data in the world is going to quadruple in the next 10 years."

IBM also has plans to incorporate the new PowerXCell 8i technology into its next generation of supercomputers currently being developed under the code name of Roadrunner. If that happens, Clabby said, he believes that Cell's ability to help process images and graphics could find a home in the pharmaceutical industry.

The BladeCenter QS22 that IBM will offer in June will support two Cell processors and offer the option of 8GB of RAM or 16GB of RAM. Later, IBM will add a 32GB option. The new blade also supports two Gigabit Ethernet ports.

As it did with previous Cell-based blades, IBM designed the QS22 to work in a chassis with other x86- or Power-based blade systems. The new blade supports Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2.

When the new QS22 hits the market, the 8GB model will retail for $9,995, while the 16GB version will start at $11,000, according to IBM.