Press Archive

Supercomputing, Built Super Fast

Published 12/30/2003

By Peter Coffee, eWeek

Using hardware furnished by Sun Microsystems Inc. and the open-source Rocks Cluster Management software, a research team at last month's Supercomputing conference in Phoenix assembled one of the world's fastest computers in less than 2 hours. RockStar, a 128-node Sun Fire V60x configuration, achieved the rank of 201 on the list of the Top 500 Supercomputer Sites when the updated list was announced at that event.

Following the conference, eWEEK Labs met with personnel from Sun and from the San Diego Supercomputer Center, home base for the Rocks initiative. Clark Masters, Sun's executive vice president for enterprise systems products, sees the growing use of clusters as a strategic fit with Sun's technologies.

When it comes to processor power, Masters told eWEEK, "80 percent of the performance is achieved with 50 percent of the die size. The other 50 percent is used for out-of-order execution, look-ahead and ancillary stuff to get that other 20 percent."

The better idea, said Masters, "is to do a simpler chip implementation and replicate that: In the same socket, you get more powerful computing." The strong multithreading performance of Sun's Solaris completes the picture, he said.

Sun's forthcoming UltraSPARC IV-with two UltraSPARC III cores on a single die-also illustrates his point. "We own all the key technology pieces," Masters continued, "so you can come at the problem from a system perspective instead of just a microprocessor perspective."

Masters said he believes there is renewed interest in U.S. leadership of high-performance computing, with its critical roles in research and industry as well as defense.

"Government interest was heightened when Japan brought on the Earth Simulator as the most powerful computer in the world," he said. "The view inside defense, intelligence and industry is that for national security, the U.S. must maintain computational superiority-it's part of our historical advantage."

Part of that strength, Masters was quick to add, is in the vigor of open-source efforts. "The No. 1 contributor to open source on the planet is [the University of California,] Berkeley, and the No. 2 contributor is Sun," he said. "We have [made] a lot of our code open, and all the stuff with and all those sorts of things. We're going to bring that power to the Linux community."

Masters stressed Sun's intention that Solaris will coexist with Linux in every way that meets its customers' needs.

"We're doing Linux with Solaris extensions, and we're [offering] Solaris with Linux extensions that make us as compatible as moving from Red Hat to SuSE-or even moving from one version of Red Hat to another," he said. "And applications today are at another level of abstraction, the application server or Java. More use of Linux on Opteron is just a growth opportunity for Sun, as opposed to eroding our strength."

The Rocks work begins with a Red Hat Inc. Red Hat Linux foundation, which Masters called a "customer choice" for loosely coupled parallel processing applications.

Rocks lets administrators define a collection of roles, said Rocks team member Greg Bruno. "We want to make clusters easy," Bruno added.

Bruno and his colleagues have their eye on the combined power of all registered Rocks sites, now nearing 40 teraflops-that's the throughput of the Earth Simulator, which the growing worldwide aggregate of Rocks clusters will soon exceed.

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at

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