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Giant Opteron cluster pulls Sun off supercompute life-support

Tokyo builds top civilian box

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SC05 Sun Microsystems has puts its name back on the supercomputing map with a massive new system to be built in Japan.

The Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) has purchased hundreds of Sun's eight-socket AMD-based servers to create a 10,480 processor cluster. The box will be expanded by the first half of next year, resulting in a supercomputer capable of 100 teraFLOPS. That level of performance will almost certainly place the giant as one of top five supercomputers in the world.

Sun could use such a win as it has fallen well behind rivals IBM, HP and Dell in the competition to build the most impressive systems. In the recent Top500 list, for example, Sun claimed just 4 systems while IBM boasted more than 200.

Sun's new line of Opteron servers have revitalized its efforts in this market dominated by x86 chips and a passion for spreading Linux across huge clusters of machines. Tokyo Tech has accessed Sun's 8-socket servers, which have not even officially been launched yet. They're set for volume shipments next year.

Last night, officials from Tokyo Tech, Sun and AMD gathered a reception here at the Supercomputing conference to celebrate the new system. The celebrity geek guest was Sun's co-founder and hardware guru Andy Bechtolsheim, who showed up in Birkenstocks, as one would hope. Sadly, just as Bechtolsheim started to detail the magic behind Sun's 8-socket system and an upcoming blade line, a Sun public relations representative pulled him away from us. Hopefully, Bechtolsheim can find it in his heart to forward some slides that complete our discussion.

Sun's head of x86 servers John Fowler told us that Sun plans to make a major push at attracting customers looking for modest-sized but very powerful clusters – mostly in the 5 to 10 teraFLOP range.

"We're willing to cede the chess supercomputer market to IBM," Fowler said, noting that Sun doesn't plan to shell out millions to build massive machines for publicity only.

Tokyo Tech boasted that its system will be one of the few top-class machines available for civilian use. US government agencies tend to build the biggest systems to handle tasks such as nuclear simulations and defense-related modeling.

"There is simply so much science and engineering to be done that is not restricted to these grand challenge problems," Satoshi Matsuoka, a professor at Tokyo Tech, told us in an interview. "We want to bring petascale-level computing to the masses."

NEC will serve as the integrator for the system, working with Sun on its construction. The huge box will also make use of technology from ClearSpeed (algorithms), ClusterFS (the Lustre file system) and Voltaire (Infiniband). Tokyo Tech plans to test Linux, Solaris x86 and Windows on the system. ®

Bootnote

While under the impression that supercomputing talk was reserved for the technology-obsessed crowd only, we discovered that these boxes can indeed prove sexy. Two comforting Seattle ladies - Melissa Valdez and Angela Kim-Horn – were fascinated by our talk of clusters and confirmed that Sun's unit was the biggest, most impressive one they had ever heard of. Alcohol, it would seem, can corrupt the most innocent of minds.

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