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Dell and Intel see off IBM and POWER to win new Australian super

114 servers, 3,192 Xeon cores and another million-plus from GPUs, for petaflop performance

By Simon Sharwood

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Dell has won the gig to build Australia's newest supercomputer.

Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) issued a tender for the machine late last year and then amended the tender after The Register pointed out it nonsensically suggested it be able to run Windows Server on POWER CPUs, an utterly unsupported combination.

Dell EMC has now announced it has won the contract to build the new machine, dubbed "Bracewell" to honour Australian astronomer and engineer Ronald N. Bracewell, who we're told "worked in the CSIRO Radiophysics Laboratory during World War II, and whose work led to fundamental advances in medical imaging".

Bracewell is built on dual-Xeon 114 PowerEdge PowerEdge C4130 servers and packs 3,192 cores, suggesting 14 cores per CPU. Each node also packs a a Tesla P100 GPU to give the whole rig a total of 1,634,304 CUDA Compute Cores, of which 200,000 are computational cores. The GPUs do most of the heavy computational lifting, thanks in part to NVIDIA's NVLINK that parallelises data processing.

29TB of RAM rounds things out nicely. The machine connects with a 13 x 100Gbps 36p EDR InfiniBand switch fabric that it inherited from its predecessor, the 6,786-core Bragg Accelerator Cluster.

Final testing is yet to conclude, but CSIRO told The Register that using the Linpack benchmark the machine is expected to "well exceed a petaflop", nestling Bracewell somewhere around 100th and 200th spot in the top 500 list of the world's mightiest supercomputers. Benchmarks considering half-precision performance should produce a six-petaflop-plus result, CSIRO said.

The organisation would not say why it selected Dell over other bidders, or Intel CPUs ahead of POWER silicon. CSIRO would only tell The Register its tender was designed to promote competition and that it received multiple submissions to build Bracewell. CSIRO did confirm the machine will run Linux most of the time, but can also run Windows for the few internal users who want it. The agency also feels that running its own super allows it to surpass services offered by public clouds.

Bracewell went live in July, a little later than CSIRO's hoped-for "first half of 2017".

An early user of the machine will be "bionic vision" research that Dell says "aims to restore sight for those with profound vision loss". The technology will see three blind patients offered retinal implants later this year, in the hope of giving them an experience close to vision. The technology is also useful for applications like autonomous vehicles. ®

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