Virginia Tech prepares to deploy Apple supercomputer

Virginia Polytechnic and State University is racing to deploy its new supercomputer cluster based on Apple Computer Inc.'s G5 desktops by Oct. 1 in order to make the next ranking of the Top 500 list.

Faculty and students hope to set up the 1,100-node Terascale Computing Facility by the end of this week, said Lynn Nystrom, a Virginia Tech spokeswoman. The university thinks the new cluster will rank among the top 10 fastest supercomputers deployed at academic institutions, and among the fastest overall in the world, she said.

Virginia Tech announced the cluster earlier this month. It will cost the university US$5.2 million spread out over a five-year period, Nystrom said.

Each node uses two 2.0GHz PowerPC 970 processors made by IBM Corp. and comes with 4G bytes of memory and 160G bytes of storage. The PowerPC 970 chip, like Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s Opteron chip., is a 64-bit processor that can also run 32-bit applications.

Virginia Tech chose the Apple systems for its cluster because of the price/performance benefits of a cluster based on the G5 desktop, Nystrom said .

The cluster uses the Infiniband interconnect technology from Mellanox Technologies Inc. and Gigabit Ethernet switches from Cisco Systems Inc. An internally developed software package known as "Deja vu" will be used to ensure the system is fault tolerant.

Virginia Tech plans to use the cluster to attract research projects in areas such as quantum chemistry, computational biochemistry, and cell cycle modeling, among others.

"This (cluster) allows us to do the big science research projects we couldn't do in the past," Nystrom said. "We're the only university in Virginia in the top 50 academic research institutions, and we want to be in the top 30 by 2010, and we need a supercomputer to meet those goals." Virgina Tech is ranked 49th in the U.S. as measured by research expenditures, just ahead of the California Institute of Technology.

The university will present its benchmarking information to the Top 500 rankings (http://www.top500.org) by the Oct. 1 deadline, Nystrom said. The final scores will be released some time in November, she said.

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