Compaq supercomputer to feature 2728 Alpha chips

The US National Science Foundation awarded a $US45 million grant last week to the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center to purchase a 2728-processor Compaq Computer supercomputer.

The US National Science Foundation awarded a $US45 million grant last week to the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center to purchase a 2728-processor Compaq Computer supercomputer.

Compaq will build the basketball court-sized system based on the AlphaServer SC architecture and have it completely operational by the end of 2001, said Jesse Lipcon, vice president of Compaq's Alpha Technology group in Marlborough, Massachusetts.

It will be organised into 682 four-processor nodes that each will possess 1GB of RAM and ultimately provide 2.7TB of RAM. The system's hard-disk array will contain 50TB of primary storage. The supercomputer will be capable of a peak performance of 6 trillion operations per second, he said.

The Pittsburgh supercomputer will be used for such things as forecasting weather and earthquakes, developing more-efficient combustion engines, achieving greater understanding of molecular factors in biology, and for the study of physical, chemical and electrical properties of materials.

The National Science Foundation is paying $US36 million for Compaq's hardware and software for the supercomputer. The supercomputing center will receive $US9 million over three years to operate the computer.

Lipcon said the supercomputer, under certain conditions, can match the speed of IBM's supercomputer titan, ASCI White, which is capable of 12.3 trillion operations per second.

"We have data that on real applications we deliver two-to-four times the real application performance per peak teraflops," Lipcon said, thus matching the power of ASCI White.

Compaq acquired Digital Equipment Corporation in June 1998 and gained the Alpha unit and the Tru64 Unix operating system. It also bought Tandem Computers, a company in Cupertino, California, for $US3 billion, which gave Compaq greater access to the enterprise computing market.

"Compaq acquired both Tandem and Digital to move beyond PC and PC servers," Lipcon said. "There is this lingering image of Compaq as a PC company and we are working to broaden the brand equity."

Compaq has sold approximately a dozen supercomputers, such as one to the French Atomic Energy Commission to analyse nuclear explosions. Three of the supercomputers are being used by labs focused on the human genome project.

Christopher Willard, a vice president of high-performance technology for International Data Corporation (IDC), said Compaq was ranked number two in the technical systems and server market in 1999, behind only Hewlett-Packard.

That particular market consists of systems that typically cost more than $US10,000, he said. Compaq held 19.6% of the market revenue compared to 20.8% for HP in the $US5.6 billion market, Willard said.

Compaq maintains a strong presence in the market and the Alpha processor is well regarded in the market, Willard said. A bit more marketing savvy could push Compaq's supercomputing line more into the public eye, just as IBM has done with its supercomputers, he suggested.

"The ASCI program (from IBM) is a very visible program," he said. "It is basically a technology leadership program ... It gets a lot of press attention."

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