Corning, IBM team for optical interconnect development

IBM Corp. and Corning Inc. will work together on a project for the U.S. Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration to develop optical interconnect technology for supercomputers, the companies announced Tuesday.

The project aims to deliver a system within 30 months using a US$20 million grant from the government. Corning and IBM hope to take advantage of the high speed and low power consumption of optical technology, which sends light pulses down a fiber-optic cable as opposed to sending electrical signals across copper wires, in order to transmit data.

While semiconductor companies continue to improve the performance of the processors within supercomputers and clustered servers, server and networking companies need to ensure that interconnect technology develops at a similar rate to prevent performance bottlenecks between networks. Optical technology scales well as processors or servers are added to supercomputer clusters, and improves performance over existing interconnect technologies, IBM and Corning said.

Corning has conducted much research into optical semiconductor technologies, while IBM has experience in developing switching technology for data and telecommunications networks, the companies said. Corning plans to develop the optical interconnects themselves, while IBM produces the electronic control and monitoring circuitry, they said.

IBM's supercomputing division also announced Tuesday that it plans to sell prepackaged clusters of its new eServer 325 system, its first server with Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s Opteron processor.

A base configuration of the eServer 1350 supercluster comes with four nodes of the eServer 325, for a total of eight AMD Opteron 246 processors. The cluster costs US$11,676 in that base configuration, which comes with either Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Server 2003 or Red Hat Linux version 3.

Users who choose Windows for their cluster will be unable to take advantage of the Opteron's 64-bit capability, as Microsoft does not expect to release the final version of Windows Server 2003 for Opteron until the second half of next year.

IBM also sells bundles of its servers that use Intel Corp.'s Xeon processors. Scientific researchers and universities with limited budgets can assemble large resources of computing power with the clusters, IBM said.

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