[EAS]Commodity Supercomputers

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Mon Jun 23 17:04:30 EDT 2003

Subject:   Commodity Supercomputers

Dear Colleagues -

Whether one talks about the architecture of integrated circuits, or
computer clusters, it has long been the story of semiconductor
technology that an army of turtles usually "catches" the hare.

So it is in the item below about supercomputing trends. The
Economist's always interesting survey of information technology
last month described Google.com as another example of
commodity-based grid computing. Whereas AltaVista started out using
high-end DEC AlphaServers, Google's founders launched the company
with commodity PCs they bought at Fry's, a legendary electronics
store for Silicon Valley computer hobbyists. 

Google now has many densely-packed racks of such Pentium PCs
(Itanium probably not for some time yet). The latest designs have 80
machines on four levels in an eight-foot rack, with a forced air
cooling shaft down the middle. Google runs a total of 54,000 PCs,
running Linux and Apache servers. And administered by only about 30
employees! In important part this is possible because of Google's
own administrative software that automates much of what systems
administrators do. E.g. "It can quickly change a computer that sifts
through web pages into a server that dishes up search results.
Without the program, Google would have to hire many more people."


(from NewsScan Daily, 23 June 2003)

The latest trend in supercomputing is to build systems by clustering
off-the-shelf "commodity" PCs and inexpensive servers; a good
example is the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory cluster ranked
as the third-most-powerful in the world. As Reza Rooholamini of Dell
explains, "The total cost of ownership much less than with
proprietary systems." This is all good news for chipmakers Intel and
AMD, who are taking different technological paths to 64-bit chips
for use in high-end systems. Intel will be announcing a new chip
code-named Madison, with twice the capacity of its existing Itanium
2 line, and AMD recently introduced its Opteron chip, which (unlike
Itanium) can handle both 64-bit and 32-bit software. (Wall Street
Journal 22 Jun 2003)
http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB105631479658507500,00.html [sub req'd]

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