Massey University has settled on AMD dual-Athlon processors and NetGear switches as the core components of the Beowulf supercomputer it will build. Palmerston North-based Advantage Computers will supply the components and help construct the Beowulf.
A Beowulf is a high-performance computer assembled from multiple PC CPUs or nodes interconnected by a dedicated high-speed network and run an open source operating system like Linux or FreeBSD.
Massey’s director of supercomputing, Chris Messon, tossed up between using 66 AMD Athlon or Intel Xeon dual processors. In terms of raw performance, the Athlon and Xeon 2GHz chips are about the same but pricing favoured the Athlon. The Beowulf will run Linux Red Hat 7.3.
Messon also considered server blades, a fairly new technology which places the workings of an entire server on a card, but their price-performance didn’t measure up.
Server blades haven’t dropped into the commodity price bracket yet. Also, most currently available have fast ethernet (100Mbits/s) networking capability, which isn’t fast enough for Massey’s needs. For the scientific computing applications it intends to run, network speed between the processors is crucial so the Beowulf will have a gigabit ethernet switching backplane made up of seven 24-port NetGear switches.
Supercomputers are measured against the Linpac benchmark for floating point operations and Beowulfs can compete against any brand name machine, according to Messon. Massey is aiming for performance of up to 200 gigaflops but will be happy with 150, similar to a Cray Computer at NIWA.
The university and Advantage Computers will start assembling the machine this month and hope to have it fully tested by the end of October.
The first application to be loaded will be BLAST (basic local alignment search tool), for genome database searches. Messon says the university hopes the computer will be in production by the end of November.
He says four university staff will work on the project, although not full-time. The cost is likely to come in at less than $250,000, about an eighth of a brand name supercomputer with comparable processing power.