Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/11/22/sc_review/
These supercomputers could be yours
A photo extravaganza
SC05 It often feels like AMD receives an inordinate amount of hype for the Opteron processor. Without question, the chip runs great, and AMD has gained market share on Intel as a result. Still, however, Intel owns such a massive portion of the server processor market that AMD remains a relatively minor player.
If, however, last week's Supercomputing show is an indication of things to come, then Intel is indeed in serious trouble. The Opteron hype could well turn into Intel's biggest nightmare sooner rather than later.
The supercomputing crowd tends to set the pace for technology adoption across the server market. The bits and pieces appearing in today's top clusters find their way into corporate data centers in a couple of year's time.
At this year's conference in Seattle, Opteron boxes appeared en masse, and the users could not stop talking about the processor. AMD, for example, had myriad motherboards on display from Asian designers. Similarly, Penguin Computing told us that Opteron-based systems account for about 80 per cent of its big sales with Intel's Xeon products generating almost no interest. Elsewhere, Sun Microsystems actually managed to capture a major supercomputing win with a huge cluster in Japan, and the company, like many, is busy working on Opteron-powered storage gear. Super server start-up Rackable Systems also went hog wild with Opteron at the show.
(Itanium actually received more play than Xeon at the show, which you know is a horrible sign for Intel.)
Simply put, you couldn't escape the Opteron chatter. The chip finally looks set to capture the high performance computing wins that many predicted two years ago. These large sales translate into thousands upon thousands of processors being moved. And even away from the HPC scene, just about every server start-up looking to target the corporate market these days seems to base its systems on AMD's chip.
A Supercomputer for you and me
The other major trend being pushed was the idea of a top-class cluster than can fit under a user's desk.
Orion Multisystems pioneered this concept with its DS-96 product that plugs into a standard wall outlet. In the coming months, Orion looks to put out a new version of this system at a reduced price.
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates backed up the personal cluster idea during a keynote at the show. "What we see as a key trend here is that we will have supercomputers of all sizes, including ones that will cost less than $10,000 and be able to sit at your desk or in a department," he said. A true visionary.
Penguin Computing has started selling a personal cluster as well. Its box starts under $10,000 and can reach up to 200 Gigaflops when packed with Opterons.
Many of you will also want to check out the designs being done by Hiroshi Nakashima and the cluster management wares of Satoshi Matsuoka. Their MegaProto system packs 320 of Transmeta's Efficeon chips into a single package.
You can bet that more and more of these types of systems roll out to address the insatiable desire for more computer power felt by engineers, scientists and big business. (We covered the start of this trend in 2002, when Los Alamos scientist Wu-chun Feng and blade server pioneer Chris Hipp unveiled their work around Green Destiny.)
Overall, Supercomputing has turned into the key show for server customers to see what's available on the market. Close to 9,000 attendees appeared this year, and more will certainly arrive in 2006 at the Tampa event, even if it's in Tampa.
Keep reading to see what other products stole the show.
Other eye catchers
If memory is your bag, you want to check out StakTek. The company has an ArctiCore memory module that basically doubles memory density. StakTek packs memory on both sides of its product and can then fold the two sides together via a flexible membrane. It then uses a unique "aluminum core" heatsink to keep the products cool.
All photo credits go to Chris Hipp
You'll find more on the StakTek gear over here.
(Speaking of Arctic items, the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center is hiring. Those of you who share a love for Cray servers and Alaska might want to take a peek here. Tell them El Reg sent you and, if you take the job, invite us up for a visit.)
Another vendor firmly in the Opteron camp that had some cool systems was PogoLinux. It has made use of a popular blade server design with the Katana line. The box can be stacked with 24 Xeon chips or 24 dual-core Opterons. So that's 12 blades in a 4U package. All of the blades are stacked vertically and are easy to remove from the chassis. The design looks similar to the product made by Inventec.
The Verari BladeRack system - pictured below - garnered a bit of attention too. The standard BladeRack system can hold up to 88 AMD- or Intel-based servers in a 7 foot cabinet.
Blades, however, are so yesteryear. Maybe the personal cluster is more your thing. If so, here's the Penguin Computing box we discussed.
And here's the Orion Multisystems kit.
On the software front, ScaleMP gained some attention for its package that turns x86 systems into Unix-like SMP boxes. The company remains in stealth mode, which is laughable given that Rackable Systems is selling an 8-processor box with the software. We'd love to hear some reviews of the code, if any of you have played with it.
Wolfram has also put out a new Personal Grid Edition package that "combines the computational capabilities of Mathematica with high-level parallel language extensions to create an optimal computing framework for quad-core machines." The company claims up to 300 per cent performance improvements over standard Mathematica. It runs on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and Unix operating systems in 32-bit and 64-bit flavors.
For some geek funk, head over to Wolfram's make your own ringtone web site.
To help out the biomolecular researcher crowd, the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has become the first institution outside the UK to link up to the Biological Simulation Grid Consortium. The BioSimGrid connects scientists at Oxford, Southampton, Bristol, Birkbeck, Nottingham and York universities. Now the US will be sharing information as well.
Our last Supercomputing items are on the lighter side.
Here we have one of IBM's stellar Blue Gene systems. You might first notice the flower down on the lower left side. Nice of IBM to dress up its boxes like that. Flowers don't look at all out of place inside a massive convention center with Big Iron everywhere. We couldn't help but wonder if there was a listening device in the soil.
Sharp readers will also see a weird blue mark on the top right of the system.
Could it be?
Yes, some joker put an Itanic Inside magnet on the Blue Gene box, which is supposed to run on IBM's own Power chips. We can't imagine who would do such a thing.
Last and possibly least, we'd like to spark a caption writing contest for this gem. Is this just a man filming an Orion system or something much more sinister such as a man-to-computer communication interface?
Send your ideas here. ®