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IBM lands 25 teraflop iDataplex cluster in Bluegrass State

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IBM has signed up another customer for its iDataplex super-dense x64 rack servers, this time landing the University of Louisville in Kentucky, which has bought a 25 teraflops cluster of these funky machines.

The cluster - which is nicknamed Cardinal after the school mascot - will be configured with 5.2 TB of main memory and 100 TB of disk capacity. As has been the case with iDataplex deals to date, Big Blue has been a bit vague on the processor configurations inside the iDataPlex machine.

The university did say that it would be using the supercomputer to do research on cancer, materials science, atmospheric modeling, visualization, and bioinformatics. At 25 teraflops, this will be the most powerful academic supercomputer in the state of Kentucky. The Cardinal system was installed in late January and will be fully operational in late March.

Like all techies at other schools, there is a certain amount of pride that comes with the size of your cluster, and the information technology department was a lot more useful in giving the feeds and speeds of the Cardinal system than the press relations people at IBM. As it turns out, the Cardinal cluster is comprised of 312 iDataplex server nodes, each with two processor sockets and each equipped with a quad-core Intel Xeon processor, for a total of 2,496 cores.

Each server node has either 16 GB or 32 GB of main memory. Why they were not all the same in unclear. The university also has a 16-core Power6-based Power 570 SMP system using 4.7 GHz cores that is used as a statistical server. The iDataplex machines are hooked to each other as well as to visualization server and log-in nodes by a 1/10 Gigabit Ethernet network, and some of the iDataPlex nodes are part of a secondary network that is lashed together using 4x InfiniBand networking.

IBM launched the System x iDataPlex machines in April 2008, and they are custom built for buyers and only offered on a special bid basis. They really are intended for what IBM and others call hyperscale deployments, but 312 server nodes is not exactly hyperscale in 2009, so go figure how the University of Louisville got moved to the front of the line.

The iDataPlex servers slide into a rack that has two columns of 15-inch servers, as opposed to the 19-inch rack equipment that is standard in data centers. The change in form factor and rack style is accounting for a lot of density improvement IBM is getting with the iDataplex setup - about twice what you can do with a standard rack server setup. The iDataPlex racks sport Cool Blue water jackets, which IBM puts on the back of racks and hooks right into water-cooled CRAC units inside the data center to more directly remove heat from the servers.

So far, Merrill Lynch - well, what was formerly known as Merrill Lynch and is now known as a tiny piece of Bank of America - has bought an unspecified number of iDataplex machines, and Microsoft also has bought some. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has bought a bunch too. ®

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