Linux and Scooby-Doo
Located in Boston, Angstrom Microsystems creates ultra-dense, high performance rackmount servers. "Our cooling and our quality are what make us unique", says president Lalit Jain. "We're moving heavily into the render market. Customers include Pixar and Rhythm & Hues". Angstom sold several thousand servers to Akamai last year for streaming web pages and internet video.
"The Quad2000 just released is the highest compute-density, four-processor rackmount available", says chief architect Ravi Soundararajan. "That uses the Athlon 2000+ rated for 2100. Angstrom does a lot of customized cooling, which is how we get to this density". Despite the density, the 4-CPU 1U system is air cooled.
Asked if Angstrom was considering low power chips for its servers, like the architecture of the Transmeta Green Destiny supercomputer, Jain says no. "Not the Transmeta Crusoe, but we scrapped a dual Mobile P3 design we were working on. It would have been four to ten times the price of a comparable P4 system and didn't save any power due to the added components."
Green Destiny is a 240-blade Beowolf cluster that operates air cooled in an 80-degree warehouse at Los Alamos National Laboratory. (Linus Torvalds was among the luminaries at the unveiling in May 2002.) Soundararajan points out, "Angstrom servers can run reliably in 100-degree rooms." He also says that Angstrom servers are working perfectly in foreign countries where there is no A/C. Less air-conditioning also conserves machine room power, a difference felt not so much in power bills (electricity) but in avoiding the costs of building wiring and A/C upgrades (electricians).
Soundararajan says Angstrom has been working closely with AMD and ATI on a graphics bug related to AGP. "There's corruption of video and lockups. We've tested in-house on a number of different AMD boards with the 760 MPX chipset and all have the same problem." The Linux community has been discussing, on the Linux-smp list, a related bug that causes AGP data to be lost during SMP operations. (See the sidebar for more details.) Angstrom sent a machine with a reproducible bug configuration to AMD for testing. Angstrom testing is continuing with NVIDIA cards and Pentium motherboards; Soundararajan found that some of those machines are crashing similarly. Finding solutions to these sorts of problems is part of Angstrom's appeal over generic hardware.
"I think everything 32-bit will be replaced by 64-bit in a year and a half" says Jain, "and AMD will be phasing out 32-bit servers and desktops". AMD's 64-bit CPU is backwards compatible to run 32-bit applications, but temperatures tend to rise with performance. "If AMD continues increasing cooling requirements, we'll have to go to liquid cooling. We're looking at whole rack cooling with water." Angstrom is focusing on 64-bit systems and on software to manage clusters and network operations centers.
Film GIMP is the only open-source compositor used in feature motion picture work. Scooby-Doo is the latest motion picture to utilize Film GIMP, a list for Rhythm & Hues that includes Harry Potter, Cats & Dogs, Dr. Dolittle 2, Little Nicky, The Grinch, Sixth Day, Stuart Little and Planet of the Apes. While there may be some growing pains, the motion picture industry is finding Linux very much to its liking. Compatibility with proprietary UNIX-based studio applications, performance, cost and the Linux community's highly regarded responsiveness in correcting issues are all factors in this movement.
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