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Sir Alan Sugar unveils East End supercomputer

Amstrad boss on 'robot prisons', boozy pilots and BBC's 'different brain sets'

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Everyone's favourite shouty TV star, Sir Alan "you're fired!" Sugar unveiled a supercomputer at Queen Mary, University of London this morning.

Sugar cajoles wannabe entrepreneurs on BBC1's The Apprentice and is founder of computer maker Amstrad.

But the hat he wore today was the one of chairman at Viglen, the company that developed the high performance computer (HPC) cluster in partnership with Queen Mary, University of London. The university has so far coughed up around £650,000 to pay for the new system.

The e-Science HPC cluster will run on Linux and be powered by AMD's 284 dual processor, dual core nodes which might be seen by some as a bold move away from long-term Viglen partners Microsoft and Intel.

El Reg asked why Viglen had chosen AMD over Intel, and Sugar said "it's simply a commercial thing" and that he was glad to see "healthy competition" between the two, unlike Microsoft's dominance of the software market.

"Hardware becomes an irrelevance as far as the business model is concerned...hacking it out on price is long gone, now we have to compete over who offers the best service."

He said the move into Linux could be described as his attempt to "get out of the clutches of my friend Mr Gates", and added that "what the end-user doesn't realise is that the largest benefactor is Microsoft. But we don't need to have our hands tied like that".

Viglen hopes the HPC cluster will help the university advance what Sugar described as "major scientific breakthroughs" in areas that include particle physics, avian flu, and fusion reactor designs.

There are also plans afoot to link it up with other clusters throughout the UK and overseas to form a 100,000-strong grid of computer processing power. It will analyse particle accelerator data from the Large Hadron Collider, which is expected to open at CERN in Switzerland later this year.

"It is now possible to probe deeper into the scientific horizon," said Sugar, with computing power that "is 10 billion times faster than the one we [Amstrad] made 23 years ago".

"The complexity of this thing" will far outstrip anything the commercial market had to offer, said Sugar, and he joked "when it all collapses in the City people will be knocking on my door".

He then went on a long diatribe about the younger generation's lack of enthusiasm for science, and said he worried about how subjects which were once taught separately, including physics and chemistry, "are all encumbered in science now" as one topic.

He spoke of the future of technology and its impact on humankind and mentioned colourful examples such as "robots running prisons" and "computers that could allow pilots to drink after all".

Sugar was also critical of young people who hoped to work in the media industry, and said that it was highly competitive and, for most, "media studies courses are a lot of disappointment".

He also reckoned that people who work for the likes of the BBC have a "different brain set".

Sadly, Sugar did not elaborate further on any of the above.

But wait a minute Alan. Isn't that one of your employers you're dissing? If you're not careful the BBC boss Mark Thompson might call you to his boardroom. If he does, here are a few good tips: wear your best suit, point the finger of blame at everyone else, and be sure to have one of those nice wheely aluminium suitcases with you.

Or else, you're, er, fired. Oh dear. ®

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