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Server farm focus

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Welcome to the first issue of Network World's Servers newsletter. Twice a week you will receive news about server issues, including clustering, caching, load balancing, server management, performance and microprocessors. Each story will contain links to related stories in IDG publications, vendor whitepapers and other useful information.

Today's focus is server farms.

Server compute farms are making their way into large manufacturing environments for electronic design automation and to more quickly process and complete tasks. A server farm accomplishes this by harnessing computing power from multiple machines and combining that power.

The idea of teaming the processors of server systems into a single network entity and extracting the computation resources from them has long been popular in research and academic institutions. Now it's gaining favor in commercial enterprises.

Load-sharing software is the crux of any compute farm. It tracks demands for processing power from different machines, prioritizes the tasks, and schedules and reschedules them. When demand decreases, low priority jobs run; when demand is high, only the most important tasks run.

Users submit jobs to the load-sharing software, rather than to individual systems, and indicate the priority of the job. The software matches the job to the servers or workstations most capable of handling it and schedules the job for execution. Server farms are able to run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, utilizing processing power that would otherwise sit idle.

Several vendors are involved in commercial computer farm development. Among them are Blackstone Technology Group, Compaq and Sun Microsystems. Among the consumer projects using compute farms is SETI@home, which uses the computation resources of individuals' workstations to search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Blackstone Technology Group is involved in building compute farms for commercial businesses, research facilities and academic concerns. Using Platform Computing's Load Sharing Facility (LSF) software, Blackstone cobbles together hundreds of servers into compute farms for some of the country's largest designers, such as Qualcomm and Lucent, and for bio-information companies, such as Celerra.

One compute farm within Sun Microsystems, for example, contains 600 multiprocessor UltraSPARC systems, 2,000 UltraSPARC CPUs, 500 gigabytes of RAM and 11 terabytes of disk space. In a single week, the server farm will execute over a billion cycles for 15 to 20 different tasks.

Without the use of Compaq Alpha servers, the Sanger Centre in the United Kingdom would not have been able to map the code for chromosome 22. Using 250 Alpha systems and TRU64 Unix, the Sanger Center has already sequenced 1/3 of the Human Genome Project. Chromosome 22 is the second-smallest human chromosome, believe to be involved in bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, leukemia, congenital heart disease, immune system dysfunction and mental retardation, according to Chromosome 22 Central, a group representing families of affected children.

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