A supercomputer from off-the-shelf parts

Oct. 7, 2004
Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories are working on a supercomputer they say will be faster, smaller, and less expensive than previous efforts.

Called Red Storm, it is being jointly developed by Sandia and Cray Inc., Seattle, using mostly off-the-shelf parts.

The machine has 96 processors in each of its 300 cabinets with four processors to a board. Each processor has up to 8 Gbytes of memory. Four networking chips, called Cray SeaStars, sit on a daughterboard atop each processor board. "Cray SeaStars are about a factor of five faster than any current competing capability," says Bill Camp, Sandia's director of computation, computers, information, and mathematics. "Also, Red Storm is designed so we don't have to power off to replace a part. We work around failed components until we decide to fix them, all without shutting down," he adds.

Messages move from processor to processor at a sustained speed of 4.5 Gbytes/sec bidirectionally. It takes less than 5m sec to get the first information bit from one processor to another across the system. The SeaStar chip includes a seven-port router and an 800-MHz interface to its processor, a PowerPC core for handling message-passing chores.

IBM is fabricating the SeaStar chips using 0.13-m m CMOS technology. Visualization functions get synthesized inside the computer itself, a feature unique to Red Storm among supercomputers.

The Red Storm supercomputer will do chores for the U.S. nuclear stockpile; assisting in the design of new components, virtually testing components under hostile, abnormal, and normal conditions. It will also play a role in weapons engineering and physics.

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