Follow Slashdot stories on Twitter


Forgot your password?
Apple Businesses Hardware

Virginia Tech to Build Top 5 Supercomputer? 460

hype7 writes "ThinkSecret is running a story which might explain exactly why the Dual 2GHz G5 machines have been delayed to the customers that ordered them minutes after the keynote was delivered. Apparently, Virginia Tech has plans to build a G5 cluster of 1100 units. If it manages to complete the cluster before the cut-off date, it will score a Top 5 rank in the Linpack Top 500 Supercomputer List. Both Apple and the University are playing mum on the issue, but there's talk of it all over the campus."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Virginia Tech to Build Top 5 Supercomputer?

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:17PM (#6835419)
    ...a Beowulf cluster of....

    Oh wait, it is a cluster. DAMN!!!!!
  • there's talk of it all over the campus ....and we all know how reliable campus rumors are! C'mon guys, don't forget to say hi to the Olson twins when you see them on campus next year!
  • What about latency? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Thinkit3 ( 671998 ) *
    That's the one thing that favors huge amounts of processors in the same box. All this "the internet is one giant distributed computer" doesn't acknowledge this. A box designed to be separate just will not have the latency advantage of a supercomputer designed from the ground up.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Who builds 2-8K processors in a box? Have you thought for a second what it might take to power or cool this? Or if it could be wired? The actual engineering of actually doing this are much more challenging than talking crap on Slashdot.

      You win the moron of the article award. Congrats.
    • by andrewl6097 ( 633663 ) * on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:53PM (#6835579)
      Actually, the amount of cache coherency checking needed in a large shared memory machine drives the latency right up. Besides, myrinet is ~15 usec latency. That's pretty goot for most things.
    • by purdue_thor ( 260386 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @08:01PM (#6835606)
      >> A box designed to be separate just will not have the latency advantage of a supercomputer designed from the ground up.
      I suggest you look at the list of the top supercomputers [] in the world. Most are clusters, ie. separate, distinct machines (just a quick glance shows the top 25 all are). It's just too darn hard to make a shared memory computer with 1000's of processors. So the common architecture is to make a cluster of smaller shared memory machines.

      Besides, most clusters built utilize special interconnects like Myrinet that offer low latency connections. They're more expensive than ethernet, but it's a supercomputer so you spend it.

      >> All this "the internet is one giant distributed computer" doesn't acknowledge this.
      On the contrary... people know this very well. That's why we see rendering and SETI processing as distributed. They don't really need to communicate with others often.
      • by green pizza ( 159161 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @11:36PM (#6836274) Homepage
        It's just too darn hard to make a shared memory computer with 1000's of processors. So the common architecture is to make a cluster of smaller shared memory machines.

        It's hard, but not too hard or impossible. The Silicon Graphics Origin 3000 supports 512 processors in a single image system with the stock IRIX kernel and 1024 processors with the "XXL" kernel.

        Rumor has it Origin 4000 will support 2048 processors, as will Altix once SGI has done some major work with their kernel patches. (Altix is currently limited to 64 processors per system image).
    • by Junta ( 36770 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @08:06PM (#6835622)
      There are tradeoffs actually. This isn't like or seti@home, this is a controlled network. They have complete control over the network switches, technology, and topology used and can design the network to accomodate tho problems the cluster will be designed to solve.
      For example, you could use Myrinet to get 2 Gigabit, super low latency connectivity, or Quadrix, or Infiniband, or just a well laid out Gigabit Ethernet with high end switches.

      In multiple processors in a box, the processors have to fight for the resources that box has to offer. NUMA alleviates demand on the memory, but IO operations (when writing to disk or to network) in a multiprocessor box block a good deal as the processor count in a node rises.

      The idea with clusters is that inter-node communication in most cases can be kept low. Each system can work on a HUGE chunk of a problem on its own, with its own dedicated hard drive, memory subsystem, and without having too much competition for the network card. A lot of problems are really hard to solve computation wise, but are *very* well suited to distributed computing. A prime example of this is rendering 3D movies. Perhaps oversimplifying things, but for the most part, a central node divides up discrete parts (a segment of video), and each node works without talking to others until done, so the negative impact is minimal. Certain problems (i.e. nuclear explosion simulations where time and spacial chunks interact more with one another) are much more sensitive to latency/throughut. Seti@Home and are *extremely* apathetic to throughput/latency issues (not much traffic and very infrequent communication).
      • by Kibo ( 256105 ) <naw#gmail,com> on Saturday August 30, 2003 @08:15PM (#6835657) Homepage
        I wonder if any universities have tried to write a distributed computing app along the lines of seti. Require it to connect to the university network, it grabs itself maybe 50 megs of hd space, and a fraction of all the new computers people bring to campus, in addition to all the computer lab gear belong to their massive number crunching problems. Make another version available to alumni, or even institutions as some form of corporate sponsorship.

        Then if it got popular, and they were really clever, they could sell off a part of that computational power they amassed to solve other peoples problems providing for funding for new versions and new supercomputing clusters.
        • Or how about this: your bandwidth is dependent upon the amount you contribute to the distributed processing.

          Hopefully there would be some sort of minimum service level, maybe 64kbps; presumably people dropping tens of thousands expect at least a modicum of return on their investment. People who didn't want to install the client could trudge along at those speeds.

          Eventually there would be a market system, whereby people would trade their completed blocks for other commodities, like food vouchers, prints,

    • by Aapje ( 237149 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @08:06PM (#6835624) Journal
      It all depends on what you need the cluster for. Some computations need constant communication, others can go on for hours, days or even weeks without feedback. If you're smart, you use supercomputers for the first kind of tasks and clusters for the second kind.

      Universities (and big business) often work together and exchange resources. Virginia Tech gets a large amount of bargaining power by having control over a large amount of processing power. They can easily trade CPU time on their cluster for CPU time on a low-latency supercomputer.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 30, 2003 @08:30PM (#6835704)
      Latency is paramount for some tasks, less important for those that *can* make a good distributed project over the Internet of today.

      Now, since today's supercomputers are *all* massively parallel constructions, the difference between a commercial design and an off-the-shelf cluster is in the quality and speed of the interconnects. NEC's Earth Simulator, the prime example of 'custom' supercomputer architecture, puts many processor units on *ridiculously* fast 'local' buses, and its racks are all interconnected with still_pretty_insanely_fast (and rather expensive) custom links.

      Meanwhile, more 'commercial' designs use various interconnects. IIRC, NEC's 'regular' supercomputers, which formed the design basis for the Earth Simulator architecture, use Fibre Channel 'mesh' networks between racks. The Opteron - sure to be an up-and-coming player in this market - offers HyperTransport, which it looks like Cray will be stretching to its limits on Red Storm; I'm not sure *how* long an HT bus can be, but one gets the impression they'll be stretching it as far as possible, and it's certainly high throughput/low-latency versus the technologies you'd usually find in use for 'networking.'

      Anyhow, point is, those designs pack a lot of CPUs together with *very* fast interconnects (equivalent to 16, 32, 64+-way SMP), and have lots and lots of racks of those. (The Opteron/Red Storm approach sounds sexy to me, because I think Hypertransport should let them pack 'lots and lots' of CPUs together versus existing designs. I've yet to read anything about what they're actually doing with it, though.)

      Now.. In contrast, an 'off the shelf' cluster is usually going to stick with Ethernet, and will only have 1 to perhaps 4 processors per [node-unit-where-the-CPUs-are-connected-on-a-fast- local-bus], depending how affordable 'cheap' multiprocessor systems are at the time. But *everyone* building supercomputers bumps up against the latency/routing problem; it's just a question of whether it's a problem for, say, 50 Earth Simulator racks (aren't there quite a few more?) vs. 1100 PowerMacs. Experimenting with 'lots of little nodes' has led us to better understand the problem, and learn how to produce tuned topologies that can compete favorably with 'purpose-built' hardware. See: []

      Now, the question *is* one of cost-benefit. Large supercomputers tend to be built with maintenance features and power efficiency in mind. In turn, a totally 'off the shelf' cluster like KASY0 has some advantages because each machine is a cheap, practically disposable 'module' unto itself, and can doubtless be downed off the cluster, pulled out and replaced with another while being easily bench-repaired (since, after all, it's a self-contained PC, rather than a CPU blade or some other random card that would require an expensive test rack to troubleshoot). Meanwhile, if you absolutely demand low-latency, you want one sort of design (Red Storm seems to be acheiving it 'on the cheap,' by combining off-the-shelf - and thus cheap - chips and buses with smart 'custom-design' engineering) while if you can sacrifice some for throughput (jobs with few conditionals), you want another... (like 1100 G5 Macs on a shelf, wired with 'boring' gigabit ethernet, especially if Apple is giving you a bulk discount on the hardware).

      So what I'm trying to say is... this is a *combination* of PR stunt and intelligent planning, and there's certainly a lot of 'good science' they could do with the beast - both in number-crunching and 'computer science' a-la cluster topologies. Whether they'll actually *use* it for such, or if it'll be solely a topology toy is anyone's guess.

      I think there's some hope that it'll be the "Real Thing," though, since this would explain some of the weird rumors about FC-on-the-mainboard Macs. So they get a Real Monster, made of what will be revealed as "the new G5 Xserves" at the unveiling. The best of COTS *and* fresh d
  • Hmmm... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Undaar ( 210056 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:21PM (#6835435) Homepage
    "Both Apple and the University are playing mum on the issue, but there's talk of it all over the campus."

    Must be a pretty boring campus...
    • Ain't a whole lot going on in Blacksburg, Va. My brother is a physics student there. Wonder if he'll take me to see it if I buy him some beer.
  • by orthopodreloaded ( 701266 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:21PM (#6835436)
    Are they gonna run Photoshop on that supercomputer ?
    • What about X-Code? It supports distributing a compile around a network. I imagine that you could get some pretty sweet compile times with a cluster of that size...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:22PM (#6835437)
    play Doom III.
  • As a VT student... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Julius X ( 14690 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:25PM (#6835450) Homepage
    but there's talk of it all over campus.

    Funny, I haven't heard anything about it prior to today. Guess I'm just out of the loop then...
    • Funny, I haven't heard anything about it prior to today. Guess I'm just out of the loop then...

      Well, since it's not official yet, it could just be that someone is imagining a Beowulf Cluster. (Wouldn't be the first time.) Hopefully it turns out to be true. The more supercomputers, the better the world.
    • by Kirby-meister ( 574952 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @09:21PM (#6835879)
      As a CS student at VT, I received word of it days ago - Hello all, This email is to serve as invitation and notice of impending Terascale Facility assembly assistance. For those receiving this info for the first time know that Virginia Tech is building a top 10 supercomputer from scratch and we need your assistance. We do have one stipulation to volunteerism and that is you must not be a wage employee of the university. Grad students on GTA/GRA are fine as well as others outside the university that may wish to volunteer. We are expecting to receive machines next week!!! Yikes! In preparation for the assembly process, we need to get volunteers together at the AISB (Andrews Information Systems Building), 1700 Pratt Dr., this weekend. We are planning to have a process orientation session start at 10:00 AM on Saturday, August 30, and last no longer than an hour. We can give you a few more details about the project if you show up and have not been before. :-)
    • by Creosote ( 33182 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @09:36PM (#6835931) Homepage
      Funny, I haven't heard anything about it prior to today. Guess I'm just out of the loop then...
      As a University of Virginia staff person, I can tell you that VT's impending purchase of 1100 G5's was announced on our Mac user's group email list back on 28 July. By Apple's regional Higher Education user's group rep, who kiddingly asked when they could expect UVa's purchase order for 1200...
  • by leviramsey ( 248057 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:25PM (#6835452) Journal

    And it'll get skunked by 40 teraflops by Duke's supercomputer every year!

    • Re:That's just Hokie (Score:3, Informative)

      by TiMac ( 621390 )
      And which supercomputer might that be?

      I'm at Duke...let's just say I'm "in" on a lot of computing stuff...and I don't know of any supercomputer on campus of any significant magnitude. There's a couple clusters....

      Maybe you were just making a joke....I had no idea. :)

      • Maybe you were just making a joke....I had no idea. :)
        Yep, he was. Y'see, you Dookies usually like to talk smack about how good your teams are, especially the basketball team. So you might be "in" on the computer stuff, but you seem to be "out" on the campus-wide obsession stuff.

        Bonus Quiz: How many Coach K-coached players have gone on to win NBA titles?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:26PM (#6835456)
    I don't want to start a holy war here, but what is it with you with you G5 zealots? Ive been sitting at my 1100 CPU G5 supercomputer for 20 minutes as it computers a fast fourier transform of an 8Ghz guassian. 20 minutes! At home, on my 60 cpu linux beowulf cluster, the same operation would take 2 minutes if that. Also, while this operation is takiing place, Doom III won't start, and everything else grinds to a halt, even my multithreaded emacs is struggling to keep up as i type this.

    My Sun Enterprise 5000 is faster than this machine at times. Super computer addicts, flame me if you want, but I'd rahter hear some inteligent reasons why I should use the G5 supercomputer over cheaper, faster clusters.
  • Macs ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rosco P. Coltrane ( 209368 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:27PM (#6835462)
    Virginia Tech placed the dual-2GHz G5 order shortly after the G5 was announced. Multiple sources said Virginia Tech has ordered 1100 units

    Wow, that'll make Apple's quarter for sure :-)

    Seriously though, why PowerMacs ? I've always been under the impression that intelloid machines are the cheapest commodity hardware around for equivalent processing power, if not the most exciting. Would anybody know why Powermac G5s are a better choice here?

    (Note to computer zealots: it's not a flamebait, it's a genuine question, from someone who is rigorously ignorant of the Mac world. And just in case, the first sentence is a joke, too ...)
    • Re:Macs ? (Score:5, Informative)

      by jbolden ( 176878 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:34PM (#6835498) Homepage
      Altivec. Certain types of vector code when compiled to only run on a G4 outperform a pentium even at 3+x the ghz range (i.e. a 800 mhz G4 beating a 3ghz PIV). Assuming similar numbers for the G5 and the increase across the board on all the non vector operations + the fact that the 970 work together so much better....

      I can see it making a lot of sense. NASA and lots of bio companies use the G4s this way.
      • AltiVec (Score:3, Interesting)

        by charnov ( 183495 )
        While the AltiVec unit is very impressive, The SSE2 unit on the P4 or the Opteron would have nearly the same performance and cost a whole heck of a lot less (I am betting if this rumor is true at all, then Apple has given the units to the school).

        What I am wondering is, what OS is this cluster going to run? I mean, have the BSD folks figured out how to scale? No chance it will be OS X...maybe AIX?
        • Re:AltiVec (Score:5, Informative)

          by Space Coyote ( 413320 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @08:07PM (#6835630) Homepage
          While the AltiVec unit is very impressive, The SSE2 unit on the P4 or the Opteron would have nearly the same performance and cost a whole heck of a lot less (I am betting if this rumor is true at all, then Apple has given the units to the school).

          Real world numbers don't bear this out. Check out the Photoshop and other application performance numbers for this. The gcc version used by the SPEC benchmarks used by Apple didn't even take advantage of AltiVec. When accounted for, and any institution making such a purchase would definitely have considered this, the AltiVec-enabled PowerPC chips totally spank x86 and others in number crunching tasks.

          What I am wondering is, what OS is this cluster going to run? I mean, have the BSD folks figured out how to scale? No chance it will be OS X...maybe AIX?

          An OS doesn't need to 'scale' to be a member of a cluster. It just needs to run the code locally and send the result back to the cluster master node.
        • Re:AltiVec (Score:5, Insightful)

          by discstickers ( 547062 ) <chris.discstickers@com> on Saturday August 30, 2003 @08:20PM (#6835669) Homepage
          The SSE2 unit on the P4 or the Opteron would have nearly the same performance and cost a whole heck of a lot less.

          Uh, no. 2 years ago, my roommate and I were both running the client. I have a 500 Mhz Powerbook G4 (100Mhz bus). He had a 1.4GHz P4 with rambus RAM. I got 4Million keys/sec. He got 2MKeys/sec.

          So clock for clock, my machine was nearly 4 times faster.
      • Re:Macs ? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Erich ( 151 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @10:09PM (#6836004) Homepage Journal
        Doubtful. Altivec can only do single-precision floating point. It's pretty good at it, it can do operations 4 wide, but only single precision. Linpack needs double precision (at least, for the benchmark).

        The dual floating point units on the G5 will help, but it's nothing extraordinary. P4s and Athlons both have multiple floating point units. P4's are relatively orthogonal, Athlons less so. However, SSE2 allows for vectorized double precision operations. It is likely that for the linpack benchmark, best-in-class P4 or Athlon architecture-based machines would outperform best-in-class G5 machines.

        Altivec is extremely powerful. However it is only useful for applications that don't require their floating point to be double precision. SSE2 is less powerful, but allows for double precision SIMD processing.

        • Re:Macs ? (Score:4, Informative)

          by jcr ( 53032 ) <> on Monday September 01, 2003 @05:54AM (#6843458) Journal
          Altivec can only do single-precision floating point.

          Not quite correct. Apple has extended-precision libraries available for Altivec.

    • Especially if you're going floating-point based math, the cost-per-crunched-number is actually lower for the dual-G5 tower than it is for a Xeon-based system that costs more anyway.
    • Re:Macs ? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by WasterDave ( 20047 ) <<moc.pekdez> <ta> <pevad>> on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:38PM (#6835518)
      why PowerMacs?

      A couple of things make them suitable for clustering:
      * There's heaps of processor-processor bandwidth and memory bandwidth.
      * On board gigabit ethernet.
      * Monster fast execution of properly written vector code.
      * Well designed cooling.

      Of course, the bang/buck ratio could be an issue for some debate but there's little doubt that in comparison to other commercial unices it's an absolute bargain.

    • Re:Macs ? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by damiam ( 409504 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:43PM (#6835542)
      For certain types of processing (rc5 cracking is one example), Macs completely smoke PCs. For example, stats show that a 667Mhz G4 can process more keys/second than a 2.8Ghz P4. Considering how much faster a 2Ghz G5 would be, a 1100-node cluster would be damn powerful if you were doing work that mapped well onto Altivec.
      • That's a *really* bad benchmark. The AltiVec unit has a dedicated vector permute unit which makes RC5 processing results way out of line with the results of most other benchmarks. Its true that the altivec unit is good, but its not *that* good. Besides, both machines have comporable memory bandwidths (if you consider Canterwood P4s) and for many (most?) FP-heavy benchmarks, the code has a "streaming" nature, and is thus almost entirely memory bandwidth limited.
        • What part of "For certain types of processing" don't you understand? The whole point of the parent post was that certain type. How is a benchmark comparing RC5 crakcing speed a *really* bad benchmark of RC5 cracking speed, or ddn a bad benchmark for ddn performance? You think integer additions is a better benchmark for RC5 cracking speed and ddn performance?
    • My guess is that Apple gave them a discount in exchange for the marketing stunt.
    • Re:Macs ? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Llywelyn ( 531070 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @08:04PM (#6835617) Homepage
      1) As others have mentioned, AltiVec and the dual-FPU on the G5 probably were significant factors in this decision. The Earth Simulator is comprised of processors that are very slow at most tasks, but are designed to scream at vector-optimized code and, honestly, AltiVec makes SSE2 and 3Dnow! look like toys by comparison.

      2) You would be hard pressed to configure a dual-opteron or dual-Xeon which could trounce the G5 in terms of speed and cost significantly less. MacOS X server also costs less than any version of windows (pure capital cost here for an 1100 seat license), which may also have factored in.

      3) My guess is that they have struck a fairly significant deal with Apple (even so low as Apple provides them at cost, though I doubt its quite that low) in exchange for some degree of publicity when this thing is built.
    • by johnpaul191 ( 240105 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @08:39PM (#6835735) Homepage
      i would take this story to imply that a G5 powered Xserve is not going to be shipping anytime soon..... the Xserve is made to cluster and run in situations like this. i guess the rumor sites can speculate if it's G5 parts available or some other holdup on a G5 Xserve.
      unless there is some reason the desktops are better for this project that i did not pick up on?

      as for the above question about Macs.... depending on what they want to really do with this, Altivec is really efficient for some computations. all flame wars aside there have always been people clustering Macs for certain uses. i do not know how much of it was user preference or the software they wanted to run or the simplicity of getting the cluster running.
      it is supposedly VERY simple to cluster Macs. there was a story on /. a year or so ago about a group that went from building a rack and unboxing their G4s to a running cluster in part of a day. i really don't remember the specifics but i think it was something like 30 G4s? i would guess the G5 is not that much harder... and they seem to have Apple helping. maybe they hooked up the optical cards from the Xserve...... we'll see i guess.
      • by jo_ham ( 604554 ) <> on Saturday August 30, 2003 @10:48PM (#6836088)
        Have you seen the size of the heat sinks on the G5? I saw one in an Apple store today and was very impressed with the engineering of the whole machine.

        The heatsink is a large oblong about 5"x4"x6" with a thin grille like construction. It's just too big to go in the 1U Xserve. Give them some time to work on designing it to fit though. The G5 is an ideal CPU for the Xserve as you say.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      They went with the G5's because they were the cheapest 64 bit solution and because they would use less power and generate less heat than alternative systems. That is the whole of it.

      They are having someone write infinaban drivers for OS X just for this cluster.

      I look forward to helping install 4GB of ram + the infinaban cards in each of these bad boys.

      It is great having connections!
    • Re:Macs ? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Lars T. ( 470328 )
      Heat. CPUs create quite a lot, some more some less (like the G5). A few years ago a German university (Chemnitz IIRC) build a large Linux cluster. For cost and speed reasons they wanted to go with Athlons, but decided to use P3s instead, mostly because they created less heat. It is one thing to pack a couple of hundred computers into a building, it's an other to also buy a new air-conditioning for that building.
  • by Nefrayu ( 601593 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:31PM (#6835481) Homepage
    I got the following email the other day:
    Virginia Tech is in the process of building a Terascale Computing Cluster which will be housed in the Andrews Information Systems Building (AISB). For those who are interested in learning more about this project, we will host an information session on Thursday, September 4th from 11 a.m. to noon in the Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center auditorium.
    We look forward to seeing you there
    Terry Herdman Director of Research Computing.

    I'll try to remember to take notes on this and let you all know if there's anything interesting...
  • Not fast enough (Score:3, Informative)

    by cperciva ( 102828 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:33PM (#6835491) Homepage
    By my count, they'll have an R_peak of 8800 GFLOPS; unless they've got more efficient linpack code than anyone else, that will put them around 7th or 8th place.
  • by Control-Z ( 321144 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:35PM (#6835504)
    there's talk of it all over the campus

    Yeah, chicks dig massive...computers.

    No wait, no they don't!

  • Memory (Score:3, Informative)

    by rf0 ( 159958 ) <> on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:37PM (#6835513) Homepage
    One thing against clusters rather than machines designed for the ground up is memory access. If on a n Single System Image (SSI) system is that any node can access memory of another over fast internconnects. With a cluster the memory has to be transfered over ethernet which even if using 10GB Ethernet is still a number of magnitudes lower than memory

  • Sounds familiar... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jettoblack ( 683831 )

    Right after the Sony Playstation 2 launch, there was a big shortage. Several media stories blamed it on some "unnamed" Middle East country buying them all up to power their missles and supercomputers (because, the rumor claimed, the PS2 was just so powerful).

    Wonder if Apple is trying to "pull a Sony" here...

  • by Sonicboom ( 141577 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:45PM (#6835549) Journal

    The article makes no mention of the operating system that will be running on this supercomputer. I for one would like to see them get this done w/ OS X rather than use GNU/Linux.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    In my email the other day, I received this letter:

    Hello all,

    This email is to serve as invitation and notice of impending Terascale Facility assembly assistance. For those receiving this info for the first time know that Virginia Tech is building a top 10 supercomputer from scratch and we need your assistance. We do have one stipulation to volunteerism and that is you must not be a wage employee of the university. Grad students on GTA/GRA are fine as well as others outside the university that may wish t

  • by Richard Mills ( 17522 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:46PM (#6835556)
    "If it manages to complete the cluster before the cut-off date, it will score a Top 5 rank in the Linpack Top 500 Supercomputer List."

    Err... I think somebody's getting a bit ahead of themselves here. =) Building parallel computing systems is complicated, and it may end up being quite a bit harder to realize the predicted performance than thought (not an uncommon occurrence). I'll believe it when they have the actual Linpack numbers.
  • by rawgod0122 ( 574065 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:47PM (#6835559)
    Currently the top 5 consist of 4 machines that have a Therotical maximum speed (Rmax) the are larger then the 10TFLOPS this machine will have. Then you have to translate that into peak speed which is what matter and what this list uses to rank the machines. Peak will be a good deal less, but this mostly has to do with the way the systems are interconnected and not the machines themselves. Say what you may about the G5 but the interconnect is more important.

    There is only one machine in the top 5 that this cluster could beat. The rest of the world has had 6 months to build machines too.

    This should be a top 10 machine for sure. Good to see more fast machines being built every day.
  • by Above ( 100351 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:50PM (#6835566)
    Several years ago I did some work on some Virginia Tech "supercomputers" (actually, baby versions of ones on campus that were the same as huge ones they leased time on elsewhere), and I think the people talking about Altivec are on track. I never knew exactly what they did, but at that time the Math, CS, and Engineering groups were working together to simulate wing designs for the YF-22 jet figher prototype. Since I was more of a "sysadmin" (althoug h with a math and CS background) I ignored most of what was going on, but one thing I can tell you was vectors, vectors, and more vectors. The vector is king. It's an assumption, but I'll bet they are still working on similar type studies, and if built, this will be just the beast for it.
  • Fucking A (Score:3, Funny)

    by waldoj ( 8229 ) * <waldo.jaquith@org> on Saturday August 30, 2003 @07:52PM (#6835575) Homepage Journal
    Damn, I've been at this school for a week and I haven't found a single redeeming value. Finally, a cause to hang in there for the next couple of years.

    -Waldo Jaquith
  • Hoax (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The cluster has nothing to do with Apple. They were contemplating using PPC970 CPUs (basically becasue they're cheaper than the Power4's), but AFAIK there were never plans to use complete G5 computers, or anything else made by Apple. And I doubt IBM would take CPUs from Apple to give them to V.Tech. The delay is mot likely due to performance issues; they're probably fine-tuning the OS so it's competitive with x86 / Windows systems.
  • XServe? (Score:2, Funny)

    by diesel66 ( 254283 )
    This won't help sell their clustering hardware:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 30, 2003 @08:08PM (#6835634)
    With 1100 machines in the cluster, there must be _at least_ 2200 DIMMs. Since these must be 400MHz (PC3200) DDR, they can't be on a large 0.15 micron DRAM process, but most likely between 0.11 and 0.13u.

    Who cares?


    The random bit error rate for 2200 DIMMs with 0.13u cells is roughly one '1' bit dropped to '0' every 9 hours. In other words: good luck getting any reliable, large-scale computation done with this cluster. (And I do mean "good luck" - they might get a run of two or three days without any problems once in a while.)

    Now if only Apple would support PC3200 ECC DIMMS, which certainly do exist: /d imm_results.htm

    this cluster might be a bit more useful for real work.
    • by dbirchall ( 191839 ) on Sunday August 31, 2003 @05:00AM (#6837115) Journal
      With 1,100 machines in the cluster, you'll probably be running into something's mean time between failures pretty darn often, whether it's memory getting a bit wrong, or one of the 9,900(!) fans needing replacing. :)

      But... a cluster should be redundant enough to withstand that sort of minor inconvenience and go on functioning without the errant node while it gets fixed, reboots or whatever.

      I'll admit that building something smart enough to say "Node 206, you have a memory error. Bad G5, no donut!" is beyond the scope of my understanding.

  • Ah... now all the budget cuts to Virginia Tech's Department of Political Science make sense. ;)


  • by Michael_Burton ( 608237 ) <> on Saturday August 30, 2003 @08:39PM (#6835736) Homepage

    I've been tempted to order a dual G5. I've resisted the temptation by realizing that my only real reason for wanting it would be to awe friends and co-workers. Pretty shallow. I was ashamed.

    What a surprise to find that the folks who buy multi-million dollar supercomputers seek some of the same shallow satisfaction that moves me--bragging rights.

    Still, if a single order for 1100 units causes significant delays filling orders for other customers, Apple must not have been expecting to sell many of these things. Maybe I should place an order just to help out.

  • It's true. (Score:2, Funny)

    by Mekabyte ( 678689 )
    For those unbelievers, here's a little proof [] and maybe a bit more []

    Here's an official word [] (search for Teraflop).

    Also, here's the original e-mail that went out (a month ago) They never mentioned Apple though:

    > Date: Mon, 28 Jul 2003 17:36:46 -0400
    > From: Jason Lockhart <>
    > Subject: Terascale Assembly Assistance
    > Hello all,
    > As you may know the College of Engineering in conjunction with the
    > university Information Systems and Computing organization are
  • by Kalak ( 260968 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @09:07PM (#6835839) Homepage Journal
    For the ones who are questioning this existence, the order is shipping, the racks (a ton of them) are there in the main Computing Center server room. First they required all servers to be moved innto racks. Then they started moving servers around, including removing the Petaplex []. The power has been upgraded in the server room (the UPS backup generator actually). This caused a morning of basically all the important servers on campus having to go down for one day in the summer - I hated waking up to go switch off machines for that one. The AC has been upgraded to accomidate the huge amount of heat to be put out. It was't until I heard about the cluster that all the chages in the Machine Room made sense. Now they're recruiting help to do the grunt work of putting all the machines in the racks.

    The stated objective was to be on the next 500 list. Dell and HP were considered, but they couldn't fill the order in time (possibly as they have made announcements of other large clusters recently) and Apple promised delivery after someone leaked the story of the cluster meetign with Dell and HP to Apple and Apple jumped at the chance.

    Basically, the story is not a rumor from the point of view of the geeks on campus who have been effected by the preperations. I'll probably post the /. link to the campus geek list (If someone hasn't beaten me to it).

    I'm disapointed about this being only on the Apple section of /. since a cluster this size is noteworthy of the frontpage. (Rumor - and this is rumor sice I haven't goe to direct sources on this - is that it will not be running OS X, and probably BlackLab or YellowDog [] or SuSE.)
    • by valdis ( 160799 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @10:34PM (#6836056)
      Actually, this summer's outage for the new diesel backup generator was something else entirely - that was merely replacing two older natural-gas fired generators that were no longer sufficient to fully back up all the existing hardware. That install has been in the planning stages for a long time, and was needed for current operations.

      Do the math - the new generator is rated at 600kva and is already carrying several hundred machines (including a very power-hungry Sun E10K and a number of E6K-class machines). There's not enough capacity on that generator for 1,100 more systems.

      (And I just wanted to say "This is All Kevin's Fault" - except for a few unrelated parts we blame on Randy ;)
  • 1% of G5 orders (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Viadd ( 173388 ) on Saturday August 30, 2003 @10:59PM (#6836126)
    Just for perspective, there have been over 100,000 G5s ordered, so this cluster is about one percent of the backlog. In other words, assuming that Apple ships all pending orders in about a month, the G5 I ordered will be delayed by about 8 hours.

    And 8 hours@12.4GFlops...damn you Virginia Tech, you owe me a third of a quadrilion floating point multiplies!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 30, 2003 @11:33PM (#6836259)
    1. The PPC970 draws from the Power4 lineage, which I have used for a long time. The PPC970 has 2 double precision FPUs, each capable of fused multiply add instructions leading to 4 flops/cycle/processor (2 units*2flops/cycle). This is identical to the Itanium2 FPU microarchitecture. The Opteron on the other hand can only do 2 double precision flops/cycle, which makes it only half as powerful on matrix heavy scientific computations, when compared to the PPC970 or the Itanium 2. The PPC970 should really be compared in FP terms to the Itanium2 at 1/10th of the cost, and at 2GHz it is clocked higher than the top-end 1.5GHz Itanium2 Madison. Moral of the story, read thy arstechnica. 2. The standard benchmarking process (LINPACK) only uses double precision FP. If this rumor is true, then this machine is capable of an Rpeak (LINPACK) of 17.6 Teraflop, which those of you who follow top500 will realize is quite substantial. 3. If they are really using Infiniband, this should be a nice machine. Infiniband provides 10 Gbps (20 Gbps full duplex) of bandwidth, which is much faster than either Myrinet or Quadrics. Also Infiniband latency is 10us and the benchmarking process is bandwidth not latency sensitive. On the other, this stuff is really expensive. If all of this is true, this would be a major engineering endeavor. Also, it is probably cheap. However, all in all, this could well just be a rumor (come on it is thinksecret - remember iWorks). If not, this should be a fairly substantial machine.

I was playing poker the other night... with Tarot cards. I got a full house and 4 people died. -- Steven Wright