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Is Virtualization the Future of Supercomputing?

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The bi-annual Supercomputing show kicked off Tuesday in Austin, Texas, and with it came the release of 32nd bi-annual TOP500 Supercomputer list. IBM’s Roadrunner based out of Los Alamos National Laboratory, which took the top spot on the previous list back in June, once again took the top spot, achieving 105 petaflop/s.

Interestingly, Intel processors power 379 systems on the list. This means more than three quarters of the Top500 systems, are Intel-based. IBM’s Power processors and the AMD Opteron family trail as the second most common processor family with 60 and 59 systems each (12 percent and 11.8 percent).

Quad-core has also dominates this list: 336 systems of the supercomputers on the list are using them, while 153 systems are using dual-core processors. Only four systems still use single-core processors.

Typically, the Supercomputing show is all about the cream of the crop, and while that is the case this year, attention is being paid the the low end as well. This was evidenced first and foremost in its choice of keynote speakers, Dell Chairman and CEO Michael Dell addressed the crowd, discussing “the democratization of supercomputing thanks to the use of standards and off-the-shelf parts. That democratization, he noted, blurs the line between high-performance computing and corporate computing.”

Indeed, Dell was, while not top on the list, a solid performer, taking top 19 spots. And while that may not seem like much, consider Cray. Yes, the same Cray that is synonymous with supercomputing. Cray took 22 spots. SGI, another former heavyweight, took a scant 17 spots.

The sands have certainly shifted.

Now, consider again the democratization of supercomputing. In many regards, this is the substantively the same as the cloud, and cloud computing is closely aligned with virtualization. Hence, the relevance.

Which pretty much explains why many of the vendors making names for themselves in the virtualization space had news of this week to tie to the show. 3Leaf, for example, showcased new silicon enabled virtualization technology designed to enable dynamic resource utilization on commodity servers.

The connection was likely not lost on HP. HP took 209 spots, nearly half the list. The majority of these systems are clustered blades.

On Monday, the OEM introduced several networking, storage and server technologies it claims can reduce network costs by as much as 55 percent.

Virtual Connect Flex-10 Ethernet module is an interconnect technology that can allocate the bandwidth of a 10Gb Ethernet network port across four network interface card connections, eliminating the need for additional network hardware.

HP also unveiled a new direct connect storage bundle for HP BladeSystem that includes two HP StorageWorks 3Gb serial attached SCSI BL Switches and an MSA2000sa storage array.

The third product it unveiled was the ProLiant DL385 G5p virtualization server. This server was “designed with virtualization in in mind. Customers attracted to the servers for their versatility,” Krista Satterthwaite, group manager, marketing, HP ProLiant servers, told ServerWatch.

The new server is 67 percent more power efficient than the previous generation and features power efficient management tools she said.

With the November 2008 Supercomputing list moving into the commodity hardware realm, one can only speculate about what the 2009 lists will look like. Will cloud take over? Will virtual machines stomps their way in here, as they have pretty much everywhere else?

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been following the virtualization space since 2001.

This article was first published on

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