Massey University is upgrading its Helix supercomputer with new 64-bit chips and already planning for its replacement.Chris Messom (pictured), the university’s parallel computing director, says Massey is adding 12 AMD Opteron processors to Helix and plans to add another 32 more 64-bit chips. Staff are currently testing Opteron and IBM G5 chips, used in Apple Power Macs or XServes, and expect to complete their evaluation in about two weeks.
“What we’re looking at is a medium and long term strategy for the Helix,” Messom says. “In terms of what’s out there, there’s a lot of strong competition at the 64-bit level.
“Initially it will be an extension. Then, based on our experience with the extension, in about two to three years’ time we’ll be looking to replace the Helix.”
Messom says Helix should have no problems running the 64-bit processors alongside the 132 existing 32-bit AMD chips.
“In theory, there’s no problem,” he says. “What people do is compile [their programs] on multiple architectures. It’s possible under the cluster system.”
However, it’s unusual for a job to require every processor in the cluster, he says. “Realistically, most people do not use two or more architectures on one job. We don’t expect that to happen soon.”
Helix currently runs Linux, but other operating systems could be used to support multiple architectures. “If it is an Opteron system it’s very like to be Linux,” says Messom.
“We’re looking at Mandrake [Linux], with the 64-bit development tools and everything bundled in.
“Under the XServe, there’s a bit of doubt going on what to use. Obviously it’s more natural to use Mac OS X on that, but some groups are using Linux.”
IBM’s AIX Unix has also been suggested, but Massey might not have to settle on one system, Messom says. “The guys are quite happy almost hot-swapping the kernel image.”
Massey has also entered into an academic research partnership with AMD, he says.
Helix was built in November 2002 and ranked at number 304 on the Top 500 supercomputer list, rated at 234 gigaflops. It has since dropped out of the current list, however, which requires a speed of over 400 gigaflops.
New Zealand is represented in the most recent list by supercomputers at Weta Digital (ranked at #44 and #48), AgResearch (#333) and Fonterra (#475).
The list is headed by NEC’s Earth Simulator, which boasts 35,860 gigaflops — over 20 times faster than Weta’s quickest cluster. Last week the US Department of Energy announced plans to build a supercomputer that would achieve 50,000 gigaflops.