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NASA blasts off with latest Linux supercomputer from SGI

NASA's Columbia Linux cluster surpasses previous supercomputer champs

By Phil Hochmuth, Network World
November 03, 2004 12:04 AM ET

Silicon Graphics is claiming the title of world's fastest supercomputer with a Linux system it built for NASA.

Named Columbia, the supercomputer cluster is built with 10,240 Intel Itanium 2 processors and runs on 20 SGI Altrix server platforms, which accommodate 512 processors per box. The supercomputer, using only 16 of the 20 servers in the cluster, was able to achieve 42.7 trillion calculations per second, or teraflops; this surpassed the performance of the previous supercomputer champs, Japan's NEC-based Earth Simulator (35.8 teraflops) and IBM's Blue Gene/L (36 teraflops).

SGI says the NASA Columbia supercomputer will allow the space agency's research arm to perform tasks much faster than in the past. For instance, computer models of space shuttle launches can be performed hundreds of times in a single week, as opposed to a month. These digital dry-runs are used to predict how launches will go and anticipate problems. Weather modeling applications running on the system will be able to predict a hurricane's path up to three days earlier thanks to the Linux- and Intel-based horsepower; this will give NASA better information for launch timing, as well as let the agency warn people in hurricane-prone areas.

With its history as a high-end Unix company, SGI introduced Linux into its product line in 1999. It has pushed the platform even harder than its own IRIX Unix operating system over the years, as users have sought lower-cost Unix alternatives. SGI introduced its first Linux supercomputer last year.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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