IBM Corp. is set to launch a commercial
version of its ASCI White supercomputer that was delivered to the U.S.
Department of Energy in June.
The new IBM RS/6000 SP Unix servers will feature performance-enhancing copper microprocessors, silicon switching technology and new management software that combine to deliver a multifold improvement over existing models, according to IBM.
Each node on the new SP model -- the system supports up to 512 nodes -- is a 16-processor server based on IBM's 375-MHz Power3 copper-based chips. Users can start with a four-processor system and scale to more than 8,000 processors if needed.
Connecting the nodes together is an improved superfast 500MB internal switch that delivers a threefold performance gain over the existing switch, IBM said.
Though few commercial users will need to scale to the thousands of processors available with the new technology, the fact that it is possible should prove "very comfortable to those who merely want dozens of nodes and hundreds of processors," said Richard Partridge, an analyst at D.H. Brown Associates in Port Chester, N.Y. "IBM wants to show everyone they have the biggest and the meanest dog on the block," he added.
New management software allows for dynamic CPU deallocation, a feature that automatically isolates failed servers from the rest of the system. A Parallel System Support program makes it easier to do centralized management of the SP cluster, while an enhanced version of IBM's LoadLeveler software improves failure detection and job scheduling tasks, the company said.
All of these features are identical to the ones available on the DOE's supercomputer and should provide commercial users more than enough scalability to run their largest applications, said Michael Kerr, an IBM vice president.
"For customers, what all of this means is the ability to build very large and robust systems," Kerr said.
Analysts for some time have believed that the arrival of systems such as IBM's latest SP servers and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Superdome line of high-end servers, expected later this year, could start seriously challenging Sun Microsystems Inc.'s domination of the enterprise Unix server market.
"Sun is doing a fabulous job installing a lot of systems at the high end," Partridge said. "But [systems such as the new SP] should put a little more pressure on them to accelerate and force their follow-on to the [E10000]."
Sun yesterday announced results that easily exceeded analysts' expectations.
The company posted a profit of US$660 million on revenue of $5 billion, well over the $395 million profits on revenue of $3.5 billion that it declared last year.
Propelling much of the company's steady growth over the past few years have been sales of its high-end Unix servers, particularly its E10000 servers, which offer significant, though narrowing, performance advantages, over rival systems.
Analysts believe that advantage will be gone with the arrival of systems like Superdome and IBM's new SP servers.