by May 10, 2002 0 comments

The history of supercomputing can be looked at as the history of the competition between Japan and the US for the supercomputing championship. While US computers have held the crown for quite some time, Japan has now claimed the crown with the Earth Simulator, achieving about five times the peak performance of IBM’s reigning ASCI White. Since it takes about three to four years to design and build a supercomputer of this scale, and since such plans cannot be kept in secret, the US in 1999 had announced plans to build an even faster one, the Blue Gene.

In this piece we’ll try to understand the innards of some of the supercomputing champs.

Earth Simulator shatters record
A Japanese supercomputer called Earth Simulator, located at the Marine Science and Technology Center in Kanagawa is the king of the super-crunching game. 

Some of the machines that go into making the Earth Simulator the world’s fastest computerThe Earth Simulator is used to simulate climatic changes, and has been built by NEC. It has reportedly achieved a speed on 35.61 teraflops in Linpack tests, the standard benchmark for supercomputer performance.

The Earth Simulator consists of 640 processor nodes, with a total of 5120 processors. Each node consists of 8 vector processors, and has a shared memory of 16 GB, with the total system offering 10 terrabytes of storage. The OS is an enhanced version of NEC’s Super UX Unix.

The project was initiated by the Science and Technology Agency of Japan in 1997, and the order for the machine was given to NEC in 2000. Prior to that design, R&D and detailed design was done, also by NEC.

ASCI White
The ASCI in ASCI White stands for Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative. ASCI White is based at the Lawrence Livermore laboratory, California, US, and is used for nuclear-weapons simulation. The ASCI White, built by IBM, is the size of two basketball courts and has 8192 CPUs at 375 MHz. Of these, 7744 are compute CPUs. The system is divided into 512 sixteen CPU nodes and has a total memory of 8 terabytes, with 147 terabytes of disk space.All this weighs in at a cool 160 tons.

The fastest hardware
Where do the various supercomputer vendors stand with their machines in peak performance? The table here gives the best performance and rank by a machine by the more common supercomputer vendors.
Compaq 3 4.059
16 1.127
Dell 104 288.9
Hitachi 8 1.709
HP 147 196.7
IBM 2 7.266
NEC 1 35.61
SGI 9 1.608
Sun 71 420.4
31 706.7

Number three
Coming at number three (number two, till the Earth Simulator came along) is a Compaq Alpha cluster installed at the Pittsburgh supercomputing center of the Carnegie Mellon University, US.

A schematic view of the Earth Simulator installationThis machine is made up of 64 Alpha server ES40s, each with four 667 MHz processors and 4 GB of memory. The system runs True64 Unix. There is a separate front-end node.

This system is supposed to be under development and the full system is to have 750 such nodes.

Fastest Intel machine
ASCI Red at number five is the top most Intel machine in the list of supercomputers. Occupying an area of roughly 2500 sq ft. and occupying 104 cabinets (76 for compute, 8 for switches and 20 for disk), ASCI Red is set up at the Sandia National Laboratories, US. It has 12.5 terabytes of disk storage and 1212 GB of RAM. The ASCI Red runs multiple OSs. The Service, I/O and system partitions use Intel’s version of distributed Unix. So,

The ASCI White was till recently the fastest supercomputer in the world
the user sees the system as a single Unix machine. The compute partition runs Cougar, Intel’s version of Puma, a derivative from SUNMOS, which in turn is an OS developed by Sandia and the university of New Mexico. 

Fastest Win 2K cluster
The Dell PowerEdge Cluster is ranked 320 in the top 500 list. It is made up of 252 1 GHZ PIII processors and has a maximum performance of 120.7 GigaFlops. The cluster is installed at the Cornell Theory Centre, US, and includes 128 dual processor Dell PowerEdge 1550 servers with 2 GB Ram/Node, and 27 GB Disk/Node, and runs the Win 2000 Advanced server.

Krishna Kumar

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