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Acer leans on Pisa in HPC market bid

Uni gets Gateway competency centre

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Acer has cut the tape on a Gateway HPC Competence Centre at the University of Pisa IT Centre as it ramps up its effort to become a serious play in top-drawer computing.

Gateway is Acer's high-performance computing (HPC) brand in Europe. Intel is part of the project, and naturally the Gateway systems involved use Xeon processors.

The hardware resources include a 128-node compute cluster using GW2000 multi-node servers - G for Gemini, 256 Xeon X5670 processors with more than 1,500 cores, and NVIDIA Tesla hybrid GPUs (Graphic Processing Unit). Network-attached storage is provided by Acer partner Hitachi Data Systems, using BlueArc filers, and Intel solid state drives can be used if needed.

Acer Gateway's Gemini series of products are modular servers and said to be cheaper than rack or blade design systems, but the Pisa centre includes both those server types as well though, for flexibility.

The cluster, with its 128 nodes, is said to be of a reasonable size and can be sub-divided for smaller projects. Sixteen compute nodes are dedicated to running HPCS.

All the servers in the centre run Windows HPC Server 2007 R2 (HPCS) and there is a QLogic Infiniband networking infrastructure in the centre, connecting both modular and high-density blade servers.

On top of the basis cluster node operating system, HPCS provides a cluster job scheduler, a message passing interface (MPI v2), and cluster monitoring and management facilities. As well as the Windows software, Red Hat and SuSE Linux are available.

Microsoft says HPCS can scale to thousands of cores and can be integrated with Linux-based HPC platforms.

Acer partners and customers can test and benchmark configurations at the Pisa centre to see if they meet their HPC needs. Excess capacity is available to Pisa university researchers.

Acer appears to be using HPC as a way of proving that its servers have real computing cojones. It has just won a contract to supply supercomputing facilities in Taiwan, its home base, for the National Centre of High-performance Computing which is being overhauled with new facilities.

When complete at the end of March the installation will be one of the top 50 fastest supercomputers in the world.

It will have more than 600 Acer servers, much more than the Pisa centre, using both AMD Opteron 6100 processer-based AR585 and Xeon-based AR360 F1 servers. There will be more than 25,000 cores, 70TB of RAM, and 1.1PB of storage.

QLogic Infiniband networking is involved here too but storage is being provided by DataDirect Networks and the system will be managed using Platform Computing's HPC product. Parallel debugging software is being provided by Allinea Software.

Acer is not using its Gateway brand for the Taiwan contract and will clearly partner with whoever seems best for particular HPC contracts. It is punting a lot of effort into the HPC space and aims to match and surpass Dell and other server suppliers.

However Acer is not selling its own brand HPC stack, relying on partners like HDS, DataDirect and QLogic to provide storage and networking components. This may be an early-stage arrangement, and who knows what further integration and branding may happen in the future. ®

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