Product of the Day: SuperComputing 2004 Product Spotlight -- NASA's Columbia Altix Supercomputer

by Vendor Written

Product: Altix 3700 Bx2 Servers and Supercomputers

Manufacturer: SGI

Address: 1500 Crittenden Lane, Mountain View, CA 94043

Telephone: 650-960-1980

Linux at the forefront of Space Research with NASA.

One of the fastest Supercomputers was unveiled at Supercomputing 2004 in Pittsburgh last week. This is an exciting space to watch Linux grow. Everywhere you looked Linux was being used in various hardware configurations. The show rocked as it was a marriage of supercomputing solution providers and University research facilities to show what is being done with this computing power. You got to mingle with some scientists from all over the world and take a peek at their projects. Japan's 5,120-processor Earth Simulator was pretty cool, there was lots to see.

The Columbia Supercomputer named to honor the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia lost Feb 1, 2003 is an integrated cluster of 20 interconnected SGI Altix 512-processor systems. There are 10,240 Intel Itanium 2 processors and delivers sustained performance of 51.87 trillion calculations per second (teraflops) and peaks at 60.96 teraflops. This supercomputer is now ranked the second fastest on the TOP 500 list. The only one that is faster is Blue Gene, IBM's supercomputer at the USA Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

This Supercomputer built in 120 days allows NASA to improve computational power to solve immediate issues like "Return to Flight" for the space shuttle. Hydrogen Gas flow chambers simulations for example in the Space Shuttle Propulsion systems can now be done in days instead of weeks. Other projects for the Columbia will include earth modeling, space science and aerospace vehicle design. Simulations of the evolution of the Earth and planetary ecosystems with high fidelity has been beyond the reach of Earth scientists for decades," said Ghassem Asrar, Deputy Associate Administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "With Columbia, scientists are already seeing dramatic improvements in the fidelity of simulations in such areas as global ocean circulation, prediction of large scale structures in the universe, and the physics of supernova detonations." Calculations that use to take years can now be done in days.

The SGI Altix 3700 Supercomputer is a performance breakthrough with open source computing. The hardware combines the cost effectiveness of clusters with the scalable performance and big data capabilities of a supercomputer. It offers large global shared memory for demanding HPC applications with big data sets between cluster nodes. Data transmission speed round trip can be as low as 50 nanoseconds. Each node can scale up to 256 processors with 3TB of memory. The hardware runs on industry standard 64 bit Linux environment. This supercomputer performance rating is 42.7 trillion calculations per second sustained performance on 16 of 20 systems and a 88% efficiency rating on the LINPACK benchmark.

NASA has not been the only company to use SGI's hardware , it can also be found at the University of Rochester, Ford Motor Company and at the French energy giant Total. The Altix supercomputer is ideal for the computational needs of structural mechanics, fluid dynamics and chemical and material sciences that require massive data sets.

NASA's Columbia Altix Supercomputer
  • 10,240 Intel Itanium 2 processors (512 processors each system)

  • 20 terabytes of memory

  • 80 SGI Altix IX-bricks

  • 20 instances of Linux operating systems

  • 440TB of SGI InfiniteStorage solution

  • An additional 800TB of data of existing data is managed and accessed through the storage network

  • 80 dual-port 2Gb SGI FibreChannel HBAs

  • 20 SGI 10Gb Ethernet cards

  • One 32 port Cisco 10GigE switch

  • 120 Voltaire Infiniband HCAs

  • One 288-port InfiniBand switch

  • Four 24 port InfiniBand switches

  • Two 64-port Brocade switches

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