by Steven Witucki, assistant editor
CRAY SUPERCOMPUTER PURCHASED ON EBAY
Steve Blank, who founded Ardent Computers and Epiphany and owns a 260-acre ranch on the Northern California coast, won a Cray Research Y-MP C90 supercomputer on eBay with a bid of $45,100.70. The computer was offered by the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, which put the C90 up for auction to make room for a new supercomputer. “I’m ecstatic,” Blank said. “In 50 years, people are just going to go, ‘That was the pinnacle of military computing. These machines are going to be as important as the first PC or the first minicomputer.'” Blank said he has not decided what he is going to do with the machine, but one idea he has is to set it up on his ranch, “next to the tractors.” “It could be the only ranch on the coast with a supercomputer,” he said. Regardless of where the machine ends up, Blank said he plans to keep it in working condition. He said he was arranging with Cray and the supercomputing center to ship the machine in a climate-controlled environment.
Michael Schneider, a science writer at the supercomputing center, said the center was “pleased” with the auction result. Before the auction, the center was planning on paying Cray $30,000 to haul the computer away. Instead, as part of the auction, Blank will pick up the tab on the packing and shipping for the C90. “We didn’t know what would happen,” Schneider said. “We’re basically about $75,000 ahead of where would have been if we hadn’t done the eBay thing.”
UIC AND UF WILL CREATE NETWORKED SUPERCOMPUTER
The University of Chicago (UIC) is co-leading a project with the University of Florida (UF) to create GriPhyN (Grid Physics Network), a networked supercomputer that will surpass even Deep Blue with 100 trillion operations per second and gargantuan storage capabilities. GriPhyN’s physicists and IT researchers plan to implement the first petabyte-scale computational environment for data intensive science. A petabyte of storage space is two to the 50th power (1,125,899,906,842,624) bytes. A petabyte is equal to 1,024 terabytes, or about one trillion bytes. This equates to about 100 million times the storage space of a household computer. GriPhyN will deploy computational environments called Petascale Virtual Data Grids (PVDGs) that meet the data-intensive needs of a diverse community of thousands of scientists spread across the globe. “Our virtual data grid infrastructure will allow communities to harness aggregated computer resources to solve data-intensive problems, as well as science and engineering,” Ian Foster said, project co-leader, professor in computer science at the University of Chicago and associate director of the Mathematics and Computer Science division of Argonne National Laboratory. The undertaking is being funded to the tune of $11.9 million by the National Science Foundation (NSF), currently for research and development only. Foster says researchers are seeking an additional $70 million in NSF grants for further research and equipment to build the system. Research and construction likely would take place simultaneously, with a target completion date of 2005.
QUESTIONS ABOUT U.S. SUPERCOMPUTER EXPORTS
The latest available statistics show that 190 U.S. high performance computers, capable of performing 2 billion operations per second (or 2,000 MTOPS) or higher, were exported to China in fiscal year 1998 and are required, by law, to have such on site “end-use” checks. But of those 190 HPCs, Commerce investigators completed a check on only one, according to a recent congressional report. As many as 600 computers above 2,000 MTOPS were shipped by U.S. companies to China between 1996 – when the Clinton administration greatly relaxed export controls on the machines – and the end of 1998. But reports show that as few as three of those were ever checked up on by Commerce. The problem has repeatedly raised concerns in Congress. “Given the lack of a proven and effective verification regime, it is possible that [certain high-performance computers] have been diverted for unauthorized uses,” said a report last spring by a bipartisan congressional committee specially tasked to assess the impact of U.S. exports to China. The committee, led by Rep. Christopher Cox, warned that China could be using U.S. supercomputers to upgrade and maintain nuclear and chemical weapons, better equip its forces with aircraft and submarines, develop a reliable and accurate ballistic and cruise missile force, and improve its computer warfare, anti-submarine warfare and communications capabilities.
China began buying American supercomputers after the Clinton administration significantly loosened export controls on the technology in 1996. Before that, experts say, the country had no high performance computers. Since then, U.S. sales of computers between 2,000 and 7,000 MTOPS to the China have soared. While only 23 were exported in 1996, 123 were allowed in 1997, and as many as 434 were allowed for export during just the first three quarters of 1998. The U.S. government has been negotiating with Beijing for more than 15 years to allow end-use checks on high-tech equipment sold to China. Other countries – such as Israel, Russia and India – by and large have submitted to the checks. But China, which in recent years has bought many more American supercomputers than all other countries combined, has opposed the U.S. government checking up on how those computers are used, citing concern for national sovereignty.
SCIENTISTS USE MOLECULE TO FORM TINIEST TRANSISTOR
A single molecule of carbon sandwiched between gold electrodes has been fashioned into the smallest transistor ever built. The tiny device, made by a team of physicists and chemists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is the latest wonder to emerge from the field known as nanotechnology, in which scientists are busy trying to fashion the working parts of a new generation of electronic devices. Experts say it may someday be possible to incorporate single- molecule switches and tiny wires into unimaginably small supercomputers and “smart” devices. “It’s going to happen, and it’s going to happen in our lifetimes,” said Mike Naughton, a physicist at Boston College who has been trying to coax arrays of elongated carbon wires, called nanotubes, to self-assemble in useful ways.
HP TAKES WRAPS OFF SUPERDOME SERVER
Hewlett-Packard Co. attempted to wrestle Unix server market share away from Sun Microsystems Inc. with new 64-bit boxes. At a press event in New York, HP unveiled Superdome, its most powerful server to date, according to sources. The $1 million-plus system, powered by the company’s 64-bit PA-RISC chips and utilizing HP’s custom-designed flavor of Unix called HP-UX, is designed to compete against Sun’s flagship system, the 64-processor E10000. HP customers will be able to further boost their system power, sources said, by integrating four of the high-end servers together to create a clustered system capable of utilizing up to 256 processors. HP’s previous top-of-the-line server, the HP 9000 V-Class, was scalable up to 128 processors. The Superdome is designed to handle Intel’s upcoming line of 64-bit processors once they become widely available early next year. In three or four years, HP plans to integrate IA-64 processors, which feature an architecture HP helped develop, into all of its servers.