BLACKSBURG, Va. Virginia Tech is planning to release its novel supercomputer technology in a "supercomputer kit" sometime early next year. The homemade installation built around off-the-shelf components has just taken its place among the top-performing supercomputers in the world.
A university spokeswoman said the Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties unit is working out licensing and patenting issues before the technology will be offered in what university officials say will be a "supercomputer kit." She added that several traditional supercomputer users including the National Security Agency and the Argonne weapons laboratory have expressed interest in the technology.
The university's computer science department linked 1,100 Apple Computer G5s together several weeks ago to create the installation at a price of less than one-twentieth the cost of comparable supercomputers. The installation has been ranked at least fourth in the constellation of supercomputer compiled by Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee. The results are scheduled to be announced Nov. 17 at the Supercomputing Conference in Tempe, Ariz. The unofficial results were leaked prematurely through a Tennessee University Web site with news that the Virginia Tech installation will rank third or fourth in the world in computational speed.
The machine can handle 17 trillion operations a second, still short of the Earth Simulator in Japan, which can handle 35 trillion operations a second. The big difference is price $5.2 million for the Virginia Tech installation and more than $250 million for the Japanese installation.
The Virginia supercomputer is the brainchild of Srinidhi Varadarajan, assistant professor of computer science. He initially targeted IBM's 64-bit PowerPC 970 processor, but IBM had already committed deliveries of the microprocessor to others including Apple Computer which uses dual 970's in its G5 Mac personal computers. When Varadarajan told dumbfounded Apple executives that he wanted 1100 5Gs, they initially didn't believe him.
Finally, Apple was convinced and Varadarajan enlisted Mellanox Technologies to supply its Infiniband cluster technology to connect the processors and Emerson Network Power's Liebert division to supply custom air conditioning. Cisco Systems supplied the secondary 2GB Gigabit Ethernet links.
There is likely to be some final tweaking of the installation, but it will surely rank at least fourth in the supercomputing results. The second place machine is the ASCI Q at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a weapons lab operated by the U. S. Energy Department.
Clustering the linking together of multiple processors has come to the fore in recent years as a supercomputing technology. Other processors successfully used for supercomputing clustering include the Alpha processor, recently discontinued by the Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel's Xeon, and AMD's Opteron. HP's Itanium processors are likely to take a place high up on the supercomputer speed list when an Itanium-based installation enters the supercomputer sweepstakes.
The Virginia Tech installation was assembled in 10 days by 165 members of the college's student body and faculty. When it is placed in active service, the installation will be used for research on chemistry, aerodynamics, nanoscale electronics and other academic fields of study.