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SGI inks deal for Tasmanian cluster

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Supercomputer maker Silicon Graphics has inked a deal to build the Tasmanian Partnership for Advanced Computing - which has the rap name TPAC - at the University of Tasmania on the eponymous Australian island state. The gig: creating a new x64-Linux cluster for climate research.

The TPAC facility is a partnership between the University of Tasmania, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, the Australian Antarctic Division, Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre, and the Australian Maritime College. The new 64-node Altix ICE 8200 blade server cluster that the facility has ordered from SGI will augment the processing capacity of the Altix 4700 shared memory Itanium system that TPAC currently uses to run its climate-modeling codes.

That Altix 4700 is configured with 128 of Intel's 1.6GHz single-core Itanium 2 processors and has 320GB of shared memory. The nodes are linked to each other using SGI's NUMAlink 4 interconnect and the nodes are fed data from 10TB of Fibre Channel-based TP9300 array capacity and 30TB of internal SATA disks. The current machine has a peak capacity of 820 gigaflops and runs Novell's SUSE Linux with SGI's ProPack extensions and math libraries.

The 64-node Altix ICE 8200 cluster, which is nicknamed Katabatic after the hurricane-force winds that whip the Antarctic, will weigh in at over 2 teraflops of peak number-crunching oomph. Based on Intel's quad-core Xeon 5500 processors, each Altix ICE blade has two sockets, and yielding a total of 512 cores. All told, the blades will have 1TB of main memory, which will be distributed across the nodes and not a shared global memory space as on the Itanium-based Altix 4700s.

The machine will be equipped with 70TB of disk capacity and 512TB of mirrored tape backup, all managed by SGI's Data Migration Facility. About 130 researchers who participate in the TPAC program will have access to the ocean, atmosphere, Antarctic climate sheet, and climate modeling simulations supported by TPAC, as well as computational chemistry and fluid dynamics programs.

By the way, TPAC is run by Nathan Bindoff, a professor of physical oceanography at UTAS, who was one of the handful of scientists who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with former US vice president Al Gore for their collective efforts to get the world to deal with climate change.

It is a pity that Intel did not get its eight-core Nehalem EX Xeon 7500 monster chips into the field already, or TPAC could have done the simple thing and order one of the SGI's UltraViolet machines, which were previewed at the SC09 supercomputing trade show back in November. The UltraViolet machines, branded the Altix UV, have been in development for years, and will marry the NUMAlink 5 interconnect with Xeon - not Itanium - server nodes to make a global memory system akin to the Altix 4700 machine used by TPAC today.

Intel has said that the Nehalem EX chips would ship for revenue before the end of the year; SGI is taking orders for the Altix UV machines now, but will only begin shipments in the second quarter of 2010 and volume shipments in the third quarter. Apparently TPAC could not wait. But the odds favor the facility eventually getting an Altix UV, considering that this is SGI's flagship box and TPAC already has codes that make use of the global memory. ®

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