October 12, 2010

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center Kicking It Old School

Tiffany Trader

There’s a light shining at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center: a Blacklight. Blacklight is the name of the gigantic SGI Altix UV 1000 supercomputer that began operation Monday at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC). The system features a very-large, scalable, shared-memory architecture with 512 eight-core Intel Xeon 7500 (Nehalem) processors for a grand total of 4,096 cores. Blacklight leverages SGI’s high-speed NUMAlink 5 interconnect, which touts 15 GB/sec of bandwidth, and MPI Offload Engine (MOE) acceleration for enhanced performance.
Blacklight supercomputer

The system’s 32 terabytes of memory are partitioned into two 16-terabyte shared-memory systems, creating the two largest coherent shared-memory systems in the world, according to PSC. Currently researchers can access 16 terabytes at a time, but PSC has plans to connect the two halves, at which point applications will be able to utilize the entire 32 terabytes. The systems are mounted as blade servers, housed in a standard rack cabinet about 6-feet tall, according to Stephen Shankland’s coverage of the story on his CNET blog.

In a world where distributed memory clusters now reign, the shared memory design is a return to an earlier era, perhaps reminding us of a time when blacklights themselves were as ubiquitous as shag carpeting. A shared memory system is relatively easy to program since all processors share a single view of data and the communication between processors can be as fast as memory accesses to a same location. Coherence provides streamlined access to shared information between multiple processors and plays an important role in many large data-analysis tasks.

“Because of the extraordinary memory size and relative ease of programming made possible by this system’s shared-memory structure, scientists and engineers will be able to solve problems that were heretofore intractable,” said PSC scientific directors Michael Levine and Ralph Roskies in a joint statement.

First announced in July, the Altix UV 1000 system now known as Blacklight was acquired as part of a $2.8 million award from the National Science Foundation aimed at strengthening the TeraGrid cyberinfrastructure. Researchers are already using the system for a wide variety of projects in the fields of machine learning, natural language processing, software security, molecular biology, engineering, chemistry, fluid dynamics, seismic analysis, genomics and others.

Blacklight is available for research through the TeraGrid allocation process. The current submission period ends Oct. 15. More information is available at https://www.teragrid.org/web/user-support/allocations#awards.

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