Linux in Government: Navy Sonar Opens New Opportunities for Linux Clusters and IBM G5 servers
Lockheed Martin delivered a High Performance Computing (HPC) solution to the US Navy last year to run sonar systems in nuclear submarines. The solutions involved Apple Xserve systems using G4 processors and a Red Hat Linux-based operating system. While few people noticed the announcements made by Terra Soft, makers of Yellow Dog Linux, the event triggered ripples in the industry.
The Lockheed Martin Linux systems varied in two respects from the standard solution of the Apple Xserve. First, the solution did not use Apple's Mac OS X operating system. Secondly, Lockheed Martin built their own chassis and only used the internals of the Xserve. Lockheed Martin wanted the G4 PowerPC chips and Linux to provide a low heat, low power consumption solution. On a nuclear submarine, such features are essential.
In the past, the Navy relied heavily on older embedded solutions, which offered little ability to deploy software. The embedded systems, for example, could not adapt to Web Services that deliver geographic information (GIS) needed in the sonar process. A HPC Linux solution gave users the ability to adapt to various formats of data and encryption, which is critical to the timely delivery of data.
The PowerPC opened a whole new era, since it enabled engineers to use software, not hardware, for large computing jobs. Lockheed Martin's engineers discovered they could do more with a PowerPC with AltiVec than a traditional Digital Signal Processor (DSP), because it allows for an adaptive, flexible computing platform.
AltiVec(tm) is Motorola's trademark for the first PowerPC Single Instruction, Multiple Data (SIMD) extension. AltiVec was jointly developed by Motorola, IBM, and Apple. This same SIMD technology is called Velocity Engine by Apple. When IBM talks about this particular technology option they use VMX, the technology's original code name.
A SIMD system packs multiple data elements into a single register and performs the same calculation on all of them at the same time. In the Lockheed Martin solution, Terra Soft provided software engineering and support services. Modifications included device driver enhancements, kernel development, tuning firmware to allow serial port terminal control. They also aided in performance testing and helped with third party engineering and systems integration.
The integrated solution allowed Lockheed Martin to meet the requirements of the Navy's contract for sonar systems for nuclear submarines. The key to the solution involved a specific form-factor, processor density and Linux. Unfortunately, Red Hat does not offer a PowerPC port of their own software.
In addition to using Linux in for sonar in nuclear submarines, Lockheed Martin demonstrated a further commitment to Linux by awarding a contract to CSP for use in the Navy's advanced E-2C Hawkeye aircraft.
CSP Inc., based in Billerica, Massachusetts won the bid for the Hawkeye with their 2000 SERIES MultiComputer products. The MultiComputer division of CSP supplies high-performance Linux cluster systems for a defense applications, including radar, sonar and surveillance signal processing.
CSP features Linux HPC products such as their FastCluster server products. The company uses the Myrinet interconnect standard for MPI interprocessor communications, PowerPC processors with AltiVec technology and Yellow Dog Linux which they claim as the industry standard Operating System for PowerPC.
CSP also says that they use a full compliment of vectorizers, compilers, development tools and run-time performance libraries from the Linux community. Their solutions provide instant booting from a cold start, error-correcting memory, a fault tolerant MPI-like library, hot-swappable hardware, extended environmental specifications and built-in test.
The High Performance Computing (HPC) market remains a bright spot in the technology sector. This time last year, Intel-based platforms appeared to have the edge in the market. For example, Linux Networx was selected to build the cluster of 1408 dual-processor Opteron servers for Los Alamos Labs. However, most HPC wins went to HP and IBM came up short to companies like Linux Networx and Penguin Computing.
The Harvard Research Group wrote in HRG Assessment: HP High Performance Computing LC Series that:
The Linux cluster market in 2003 was more than 1/3 of the overall Linux server market in terms of revenue. HP dominated the worldwide Linux server market with about 29% of revenue market share and Linux servers provided over 25% of HP's HPTC market share of 37%. The worldwide Linux cluster market is expected to grow faster than the worldwide Linux server market over the next 2 -3 years as transition continues to take place from RISC/Unix technology to industry standard server and operating system technology. This growth will occur because HPC buyers are focused on price/performance, and Linux clusters have a 5x to 20x price/performance advantage over previous generation RISC/Unix platforms.
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