Big Mac supercomputer unveiled

* Football tickets and pizza pave way for Big Mac supercomputer installation

Virginia Tech last week rolled out an 1,100-node cluster of Macintosh computers that will assist its researchers with quantum and computational chemistry, aerodynamics and the molecular modeling of proteins.

The university installed the huge cluster of Macintosh G5 Power Macs and interconnected them with InfiniBand adapters and switches from Mellanox. The cluster was then connected again to a 240-port Cisco Catalyst 4500 Gigabit Ethernet switch, which handles Network File System traffic and normal IP traffic.

Each G5 in the “Big Mac” cluster, as it has been called, operates at 2 GHz, has 4G bytes of memory, two PowerPC 970 processors and on-board Advanced Technology Attachment (ATA) disks. In total, the cluster has 176 terabytes of storage.

The cluster runs the Mac OS X operating system.

Four nodes handle job startup, and one node is responsible for management of the cluster.

To install the cluster, Virginia Tech recruited 160 students with offers of football tickets and pizza to unpack the computers, put them in racks and install software. Computer technicians then configured and wired together the cluster.

The new facility will be located at Virginia Tech's computing center, which has a 9,000-square-foot raised-floor environment with dual redundant power feeds and back-up generators, as well as fire suppression power conditioning. It is monitored on a 24-7 basis by security personnel. The cluster is cooled with more than 2 million BTUs of gear from Liebert.

The supercomputer cluster cost $7 million, according to the university’s claims.

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