French atomic physicists count on Intel's Montecito

The French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) will be literally counting on Intel's forthcoming dual-core Itanium 2 processor when it takes delivery of a new supercomputer cluster next year. The Tera10 computing cluster will contain 4,352 of the chips, so far known only by their codename, Montecito, in 544 nodes.

Tera10 is the result of a competition among manufacturers to deliver a supercomputer that runs open source software on an open architecture based on standard components, according to the CEA's director of nuclear weapons, Daniel Verwaerde.

Server manufacturer Bull will deliver the first nodes, based on the eight-way version of its NovaScale 6160 server, in mid-2005, said company spokeswoman Anne-Marie Jourdain. Construction of the computer at Bruyeres-le-Chatel, to the south of Paris, can begin as soon as the CEA prepares the site, and the last nodes should be in service by the end of that year, she said.

Tera10 will have a theoretical peak performance of 60T flops (floating-point operations per second), and will replace an existing 625-node computer, Tera, which has a peak performance of 5T flops, Verwaerde said. Tera uses Digital Equipment EV68 processors. The nodes of both Tera and Tera10 are interconnected using networking technology from Quadrics.

Two of Tera10's 544 nodes will manage the applications running in its 27T bytes of central memory, while 56 nodes will handle communication with its 1000T bytes of storage using Lustre, an open-source file system developed and maintained by Cluster File Systems.

Like its predecessor, Tera10 will simulate the operation of atomic bombs. Such simulation is the only way to guarantee the continued reliability of France's nuclear deterrent since the introduction of the ban on testing, Verwaerde said. Other research institutions will also be allowed to use the cluster for their own projects, but they will have to provide their code and data on disk, as for security reasons Tera10 will have no external network connection. Such applications could include genomics or high-energy nuclear physics.

Verwaerde expects few problems in porting applications from Tera's EV68 processors to Tera 10's Itanium 2 chips, because the CEA has avoided using proprietary compiler extensions and stuck rigorously to language standards. Nevertheless, he's taking no chances: The CEA will begin recompiling its code on a test node from January.

One thing that will make the migration easy is that the CEA's applications are already optimized for a network of between 500 and 600 nodes, he said. An earlier migration, from a vector computer supplied by Cray to the Tera cluster, was harder work because of the difference in architectures, he said.

The CEA will be among the first users of the Montecito chips, which Intel does not plan to deliver in volume until early 2006. Despite the early delivery date, Bull's order of thousands of the processors for the second half of 2005 will present no problems, said Intel spokesman Arnaud Lambert.

Bull, of Louveciennes, France, won the contract to build the system in a competitive tender, beating bids from Linux Networx; Hewlett-Packard, and IBM, said Verwaerde. He would not disclose the value of the deal. "We're buying at the market price. We pitted the manufacturers against one another," he said.

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