The Weekly Top Five

By Tiffany Trader

January 20, 2011

The Weekly Top Five features the five biggest HPC stories of the week, condensed for your reading pleasure. This week, we cover Durham University’s newest “Cosmology Machine”; NetApp’s Engenio acquisition; the 2010 ACM Turing Award winner; SGI’s ArcFiniti storage archive; and an MRAM data storage advance worthy of patenting.

‘Cosmology Machine’ Helps Solve Riddles of Universe

Durham University’s renowned Institute for Computational Cosmology (ICC) is now home to a powerful new server and storage cluster. The fourth generation “Cosmology machine,” aka COSMA4, will enable researchers to perform fine-grained simulations of the Universe, leading to greater knowledge of galaxies, stars and planets. A team of 20 cosmology researchers make up the cluster’s main user base, although there are 100 registered users in total.

Professor Carlos Frenk, director of the ICC, commented on the significance of the new system:

“Unlike other sciences it is very difficult to ‘test’ theories on the Universe. Brain power alone is not enough to calculate the complex algorithms. However, our new server and storage cluster does enable us to experiment with the Universe and answer fundamental questions that we all have about our cosmic environment, how does gravity operate and how does the Universe expand, for example.”

The server and storage cluster features 220 IBM iDataPlex servers and eight IBM DS3500 storage devices. With 25 teraflops of computing power, the COSMA4 is seven times faster than its predecessor, COSMA3, and 50 times faster than COSMA2, now decommissioned.

The cluster was designed to be powerful but eco-friendly. It is currently running at 91 percent efficiency, as measured by the Linpack benchmark, and has an energy-efficiency rating of 400 megaflops per watt of energy consumed, equivalent to a 19th place ranking on the most recent Green500 list. To illustrate the machine’s green credentials, it uses about the same power as COSMA2, despite being many times faster.

NetApp Takes Over Engenio Business from LSI

NetApp has announced an agreement to purchase the Engenio external storage systems business of LSI Corporation for $480 million in cash. NetApp officials believe they can extract profit from the Engenio line in emerging markets such as video and high performance computing applications. If all goes as planned, the deal will be closed in 60 days. According to the official announcement, the transaction will be reflected on NetApp’s earnings statement by the end of the second quarter of its 2012 fiscal year.

President and CEO of NetApp, Tom Georgens, highlighted some possible benefits to the company:

“We’re excited about the acquisition of the Engenio business and the opportunity to significantly expand our addressable market and generate greater revenue growth. Our customers and partners have helped us emerge as an innovation leader and one of the fastest growing storage vendors in shared, virtualized IT infrastructures. With Engenio we will have a strategic storage platform to capitalize on new, high-growth opportunities that we don’t currently reach with our FAS platform. NetApp also gains a proven OEM-based revenue stream that is run by a talented Engenio team. We believe that the synergies between NetApp and Engenio will create a compelling combination that will help us continue to scale our business and fuel our continued growth.”

As part of the deal, NetApp will keep the Engenio engineering team. The Engenio business unit will be folded into NetApp’s business functions under the direction of Manish Goel, executive vice president of NetApp Product Operations. The NetApp and Engenio sales teams will be merged.

For additional coverage of this story, check out HPCwire Editor Michael Feldman’s in-depth analysis.

Harvard Professor Receives ACM Turing Award

This week, Harvard professor Leslie G. Valiant was named the winner of the 2010 ACM A.M. Turing Award. The Association for Computing Machinery, or ACM, selected Valient “based on his fundamental contributions to the development of computational learning theory and to the broader theory of computer science.”

An innovator in machine learning, Valiant has made numerous important contributions to the field of artificial intelligence, including natural language processing, handwriting recognition, and computer vision. He has also developed models for parallel and distributed computing and is currently working on the forefront of computational neuroscience.

Valiant even helped create the technology behind IBM’s Watson computer, which achieved a win on the popular Jeopardy quiz show last month, when it took part in an exhibition match against two champion human players.

“Leslie Valiant’s accomplishments over the last 30 years have provided the theoretical basis for progress in artificial intelligence and led to extraordinary achievements in machine learning,” remarked ACM President Alain Chesnais.

“His profound vision in computer science, mathematics, and cognitive theory have been combined with other techniques to build modern forms of machine learning and communication, like IBM’s ‘Watson’ computing system, that have enabled computing systems to rival a human’s ability to answer questions,” Chesnais added.

The Turing Award, named after British mathematician Alan M. Turing, carries a $250,000 honorarium, sponsored by Intel Corporation and Google Inc.

SGI Announces ArcFiniti Storage Archive

SGI debuted its AcrFiniti archive storage solution this week, which the company is marketing as “a fully integrated disk-based solution that targets the exploding problem of unstructured, file-based data sprawl.” The release comes one year after SGI acquired the COPAN MAID technology and marks the company’s second set of enhancements.

According to SGI officials, ArcFiniti is available in five configurations, ranging from 156 TB to 1.4 PB of usable archive capacity. At the high-end, a single 1.4 PB rack represents as much data as 20 years of HD-TV video or 10 billion photos on Facebook. All files are always network-accessible.

Brent Van Scyoc, vice president of the Federal Solutions Group at Alliance Technology Group, comments on the release:

“SGI is delivering a very elegant and simple solution to what is a common but complex challenge for many of our customers. Customers need a reliable, scalable archive solution that can be dropped into an existing work environment and grow with the business. SGI ArcFiniti delivers such a solution, and we are excited to work with SGI to bring this to our customers.”

German Research Center PTB Patents Faster MRAM Design

Researchers at Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB), Germany’s national metrology institute, have invented a super-fast MRAM data storage mechanism.

According to the release:

Magnetic Random Access Memories (MRAM) are the most important new modules on the market of computer storage devices. Like the well known USB-sticks, they store information into static memory, but MRAM offer short access times and unlimited writing properties. Commercial MRAMs have been on the market since 2005. They are, however, still slower than the competitors they have among the volatile storage media.

PTB researchers have created a speedier MRAM, employing a special chip connection to reduce response times from 2 ns to below 500 ps. Using real-world data rates, that’s like going from 400 MBit up to 2 GBit.

The announcement explains that current DRAM and SRAM solutions lose their memory if there is an interuption in power supply. The MRAM, however, could be immune to such disruptions because information is not stored in the form of an electric charge, but is retained using magnetic spins. That is why MRAMs are considered universal storage chips. In addition to non-volatile storage, the technology offer such benefits as “faster access, a high integration density and an unlimited number of writing and reading cycles.”

The European patent is being granted this spring, while the US patent was granted in 2010. The researchers are currently looking for an industrial partner to take on development and manufacturing responsibilities.

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