NCSA DEMONSTRATES INTEL ITANIUM-BASED CLUSTER

October 13, 2000

SCIENCE & ENGINEERING NEWS

San Francisco, CALIF. — The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will demonstrate Intel’s Itanium processor as a high-performance computing solution by running two scientific applications that have already achieved new performance levels on the new architecture.

NCSA, one of the nation’s premier providers of high-performance computing resources for the national research community and the leading-edge site for the National Computational Science Alliance (Alliance), will show how two scientific codes perform on an Itanium-based computer cluster. The 16-processor cluster of four four-processor Itanium-based systems runs on 64-bit Linux and uses Myricom’s Myrinet to interconnect the machines. The cluster relies on an open source version of MPICH to run MPI codes. MPI allows communications among multiple systems for distributed computing.

“We believe Intel’s 64-bit architecture is the future of computing,” said Dan Reed, director of NCSA and the Alliance. “It provides the scalability and performance that our users demand, but it is just as applicable to a single user with a workstation. For the first time we really have scalability from the desktop to the teraflop.”

NCSA has already successfully deployed a 256-processor cluster consisting of Intel Pentium III Xeon processors that ranks 207 on the current Top500 supercomputer sites list ( http://www.top500.org ), and is committed to developing a large Itanium-based computer cluster as a solution for its scientific and industrial users. The Alliance also has a 512-processor Linux-based IBM supercluster called LosLobos. That cluster is located at the Albuquerque High Performance Computing Center at the University of New Mexico.

Tom Gibbs, Director, Vertical Industry Marketing, of Intel, said NCSA’s and the Alliance’s commitment to the Itanium architecture provides a glimpse into the future and how the new architecture will be used in the enterprise and consumer markets in the years to come.

“NCSA has always used technology in new and innovative ways and in the process, it pushes the development of new technologies for all sectors,” said Gibbs. “If you look at how NCSA’s research users are working with the Itanium architecture today, the capabilities of the new processor family are immediately obvious. It is really exciting to work with NCSA, where they work with breakthrough architectures and explore new ways the increased capabilities can be used in both research and commercial settings.”

NCSA’s demo at The eXHANGE will feature two scientific applications that demand top performance: Cactus ( http://www.cactuscode.org ) and sPPM (for simplified Piecewise Parabolic Method). Cactus is a multipurpose high-performance toolkit used for computer simulations in a variety of scientific and engineering disciplines. At the eXCHANGE, John Shalf, a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who works with astrophysicist Ed Seidel and the Cactus team at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam, Germany, will demonstrate wave propagation with Cactus on the Itanium cluster. The Max Planck team has used Cactus to simulate black hole collisions. These kinds of simulations require calculating extremely complex sets of equations, and the results are likely to shed light on fundamental scientific questions, such as the nature of gravitational waves, space and time.

sPPM computes hydrodynamics problems with shocks and is used primarily in astrophysics and defense applications. At the eXCHANGE Paul Woodward, an Alliance researcher at the University of Minnesota, will use sPPM to simulate 2D supersonic flow with complex shock interactions. These types of simulations are useful to engineers who need to understand the behavior of gas flows at supersonic speeds.

“My group has tested the performance of the sPPM code on a wide variety of microprocessors, and this Itanium performance is the best that we have seen to date by a wide margin,” said Woodward. “Our codes scale well to thousands of processors, so we expect to be computing at sustained speeds over 1 teraflop (a billion calculations per second) on large Itanium-based computer clusters.”

Cactus too has achieved its best performance ever by using the Itanium processor, with a highly optimized version of the code achieving nearly peak speed on the pre-production Itanium-based systems. This performance is almost six times better than performance levels on more conventional supercomputing systems.

“The Itanium architecture combines cost effective components available from a wide number of hardware vendors with the thriving open source software community, and the essential contributions and support of independent software vendors,” said Rob Pennington, head of cluster development efforts at NCSA. “These are the factors that make it so attractive to us and our users–affordability, scalability, and the support of both the open source community and the independent software vendors.”

In fact, because high-performance Itanium-based -computer clusters use the same hardware and software as business and consumer machines, new applications on these clusters should be easy to deploy to a more general audience. Cactus could be used in a variety of business settings, including financial modeling and automotive design. sPPM could be a useful tool for the many engineers that need to consider hydrodynamics problems.

“In the final analysis, this isn’t about computing,” said Reed. “It’s about enabling people with the tools they need, whether they are running a business or investigating the most challenging scientific problems.”

The National Center for Supercomputing Applications is the leading-edge site for the National Computational Science Alliance. NCSA is a leader in the development and deployment of cutting-edge high-performance computing, networking, and information technologies. The National Science Foundation, the state of Illinois, the University of Illinois, industrial partners, and other federal agencies fund NCSA.

The National Computational Science Alliance is a partnership to prototype an advanced computational infrastructure for the 21st century and includes more than 50 academic, government and industry research partners from across the United States. The Alliance is one of two partnerships funded by the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI) program, and receives cost-sharing at partner institutions. NSF also supports the National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (NPACI), led by the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

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