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Sun's new supercomputer and switch are bigger than yours

Market's 90-pound weakling beefs up

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Sun Microsystems is sick and tired of rolling over while the likes of IBM and Cray dominate the low margin, high profile world of super computers.

There's little fanfare and few celebratory headlines for the company that builds the 9th largest supercomputer — not even a complimentary fruit basket. Such clamor is reserved for the folks leading the pack, and Sun has been staring at the waggling backsides of its competitors for too long.

"We've been somewhat absent from the supercomputer business as of late," Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim admits. But the company has its second wind and intends to turn placidity into fighting spirit by aiming straight for the top.

The company is setting its game face with an answer to IBM's Blue Gene line of supercomputers, which currently occupy the top and third position in the market. Sun's new Opteron-based "Constellation" system will premier this week at the International Supercomputing conference in Dresden, Germany and promises to be the basis of the fastest-performing computer in the world - give or take an upgrade.

Sun has teamed with the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) in Austin to build the first "Constellation" system. The box dubbed "Ranger" is a Linux cluster with a peak performance in excess of 420 trillion floating point operations per second. The system is packed with 1.7PB of disk storage, and when finalized, will have 105TB of memory. The setup will take about 3 megawatts of power to run.

The 420 TFlops would put the TACC system ahead of a Blue Gene box at Lawrence Livermore Lab, which has hit 280TFlops. IBM, however, is in the midst of upgrading that system, so it remains to be seen how the Sun kit will compare with IBM when the November Top500 supercomputer list comes out. (A mid-year version of the list will appear this week.)

Such a top score would do marvels for Sun's supercomputing reputation. The one-time HPC (high performance computing) star fell off the Top500 list, only to return recently with an Opteron-based cluster in the #9 slot.

If a customer had all the money in the world, they could buy a maxed-out Constellation system able to reach 2 petaflops of peak performance, while boasting 1TB/sec of I/O with 1 exabyte of disk capacity (that's one quintillion bytes). Constellation can be built for Solaris or Linux depending on the customer requirement.

The key to Constellation's might comes from a Bectolsheim-designed mega switch.

The switch, code-named "Magnum" (yes, Magnum*) promises to top industry scales. It's a massive, 3,456 port InfiniBand system with a total bandwidth of 110Tb/s. Each switch can hold 1152 cables, at 12 connections per cable.

*Sadly the name isn't making it out of beta. Sun was crushed to learn the name Magnum is already trademarked by a startup.

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