Early users of new clustered systems from Dell Computer last week said the vendor's use of Intel -based servers to deliver supercomputerlike performance is proving to be a good way to reduce hardware costs and improve scalability.
Dell announced its high-performance computing clusters technology in February. The company is bundling its PowerEdge servers with specialized clustering and message-passing software from MPI Software Technology Inc. in Starkville, Miss., and Paralogic Inc. in Bethlehem, Pa.
The bundles come configured with 16 to 128 processors and can be tied together to build large systems for use in scientific research, financial modeling and data-intensive business applications.
For example, Paris-based Compagnie Generale de Geophysique (CGG) used Dell's technology to build a 3,072-processor cluster that analyzes seismic data for oil companies.
Derrick Deaton, an executive vice president at CGG's Houston office, wouldn't disclose pricing information. But he said the cluster is delivering performance that's comparable to the throughput of special-purpose supercomputers, at roughly a quarter of the cost.
"The fact that you can tie so many [servers] together so inexpensively allows you to get generally the same processing power," Deaton said.
That's why Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., is using a 128-node Dell cluster to try to simulate the impact of nuclear weapons.
Examining the Advantages
Apart from the lower costs, the fact that such clusters can typically be built and put into use much more quickly than traditional supercomputers is a big advantage, said Milt Clauser, a principal member of Sandia's technical staff.
But Deaton said users need to be aware that the clusters can occupy considerably more space than supercomputers and generate a lot of heat.
The increasing availability of open-source clustering and parallel computing software and the growing power of Intel Corp. processors are making high-performance clusters increasingly feasible, said Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.
IBM offers tools that help users assemble large Intel-based clusters, Kusnetzky said. And Hewlett-Packard Co. plans to harness commodity servers internally to offer utilitylike computer services to customers, he added. But thus far, Dell is offering the most formal program for building the clusters, Kusnetzky said.