Monday, September 11, 2006

IBM to Build World’s First Cell Broadband Engine-Based Supercomputer

The US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has selected IBM to design and build the world’s first supercomputer to harness the immense power of the Cell Broadband EngineTM (Cell B.E.) processor aiming to produce a machine capable of a sustained speed of up to 1,000 trillion calculations per second, or one petaflop.

The ‘hybrid’ supercomputer, codenamed Roadrunner, will be installed at DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory. In a first-of-a-kind design, Cell B.E. chips – originally designed for video game platforms -- will work in conjunction with systems based on x86 processors from Advanced Micro Devices (AMD).

Bevan Lock, IBM South Africa Technical Evangelist, explains that the cell processor is the most sophisticated chip ever created. “Effectively a supercomputer on a chip, it is expected to dramatically improve the use of visual graphics in the entertainment, medical imaging, aerospace and defence industries,” he says.

Designed specifically to handle a broad spectrum of scientific and commercial applications, the supercomputer design will include new, highly sophisticated software to orchestrate over 16,000 AMD Opteron processor cores and more than 16,000 Cell B.E. processors in tackling some of the most challenging problems in computing today. The revolutionary supercomputer will be capable of a peak performance of over 1.6 petaflops (1.6 thousand trillion calculations per second).

The machine is to be built entirely from commercially available hardware and based on the Linux operating system. IBM System xTM 3755 servers based on AMD Opteron technology will be deployed in conjunction with IBM BladeCenter H systems with Cell B.E. technology. Each system used is designed specifically for high-performance implementations.

Designed also with space and power consumption issues in mind, the system will employ advanced cooling and power management technologies and will occupy only 1115m2 of floor space, or approximately the size of three basketball courts.

Roadrunner’s construction will involve the creation of advanced ‘hybrid programming’ software which will orchestrate the Cell B.E.-based system and AMD system and will inaugurate a new era of heterogeneous technology designs in supercomputing. These innovations, created collaboratively among IBM and LANL engineers, will allow IBM to deploy mixed-technology systems to companies of all sizes, spanning industries such as life sciences, financial services, automotive and aerospace design.

Roadrunner’s hybrid design will allow the system to segment complex mathematical equations, routing each segment to the part of the system that can most efficiently handle it. Typical compute processes, file IO, and communication activity will be handled by AMD Opteron processors while more complex and repetitive elements –that traditionally consume the majority of supercomputer resources - will be directed to more than 16,000 Cell B.E. processors.

“This new supercomputer demonstrates a commitment to achieve a major advance in technological capability that will help scientists and businesses solve the most challenging problems,” Lock says.

Marty Seyer, Senior Vice President, Commercial Segment, AMD, comments: “This installation with Los Alamos and IBM demonstrates the compelling benefits from industry leaders innovating around an open platform; in this case IBM and AMD collaborating in the use of AMD Opteron and the Cell B.E. processor to build powerful systems for highly specific Los Alamos Labs workloads."

IBM will begin shipping the new supercomputer to the DOE facility at the Los Alamos National Laboratory later this year, with completion of the installation and acceptance anticipated in 2008.

Based on the Power Architecture, the Cell B.E. processor was developed in collaboration with IBM, Sony Corporation, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (Sony and Sony Computer Entertainment collectively referred to as Sony Group), and Toshiba Corporation.

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