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 Supercomputing in Small Spaces

LANL Researcher Sees Green in HPC's Destiny

The future of supercomputing may lie in smaller spaces, according to Wu-Chen Feng of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).

Feng is team leader of LANL's Research and Development in Advanced Network Technology (RADIANT), a group that created the newest bladed Beowulf cluster, Green Destiny. Taking its name from the sword in the film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Green Destiny takes up about the same amount of space as a refrigerator, and although slower than more traditional clusters, it is also power efficient and cost effective, said Feng.

Feng recently spoke about Green Destiny to about 30 people at the University of Illinois' Beckman Institute and to a remote audience over the Access Grid.

Green Destiny is a 240-node Beowulf cluster made with blade servers—servers stripped down to their basic components. These no-frills servers allow Green Destiny to be smaller, more cost effective, and more power-efficient than typical clusters, making them a worthwhile option for research labs with limited budgets, or those that don't need the performance and services of a large-scale cluster, such as NCSA's Linux machines.

The 240-node cluster is made up of Transmeta TM5600 667 MHz CPUs. Each node is anchored to RLX Technologies motherboard blades, which are then mounted onto a RLX rack mount chassis. Each cluster contains 10 chasses.

In comparison to other clusters, Green Destiny is much smaller. It stands 2 feet deep by 3 feet wide by 6 1/2 feet tall. The small size is possible because of the bare-bone components.

Currently, clusters are evaluated by price/performance ratio and a cost per Flops ratio. However, Feng believes these metrics are not all that need to be evaluated when judging cluster systems. Metrics that evaluate efficiency, reliability and availability (ERA) also need to be considered, he said.

"The goal [of Green Destiny] is not performance, it's not even price performance, it's looking at the metrics that we use to evaluate," Feng said. "The goal is to improve ERA to reduce the total cost of ownership."

In order to focus on ERA, Feng proposed three new metrics: Total Price Performance Ratio (ToPPeR), performance/space, and performance/power. In the futrue, these metrics will become much more important considerations when choosing clusters, Feng predicted.

Green Destiny's strong points are its efficiency and energy efficiency. According to Feng, the machine will run on only five kilowatts of energy, a little more than a light bulb. The low energy requirements mean Green Destiny is able to run in warm environments and still maintain its stability. Feng houses Green Destiny in an 80-degree room without the need for cooling. Since cooling is not needed, this also lowers the price in comparison to other supercomputers.

According to Feng, the cooling requirements of large clusters is a growing challenge. Technological advances bring about faster computers, but also computers that generate more heat.

"We're reaching a point where we're going to be generating as much energy as a nuclear reactor," Feng said. "We're increasing performance of a higher burning chip."

Feng cited Green Destiny's cooling costs at $2,000 over four years. The total cost of ownership for Green Destiny is approximately $35,000, over four years, he said. About $26,000 is acquisition costs, and $9,000 is for power, space, downtime and system administration.

Yet, Feng said his goal is not to compete with top-of-the-line clusters, but to fit a niche market. Green Destiny, although smaller, more cost effective and power efficient, is not as fast as other clusters. It runs off of an Ethernet connection, which is relatively slow for supercomputer clusters, and is capable of performance of only 21.4 gigaflops, far less than the terascale-level clusters needed for data-intensive science.

However, what Green Destiny lacks in speed, Feng hopes it will make up for in reliability. He compared clusters to cars, and compared the faster, more powerful ones to high-performance race cars, while calling Green Destiny the Toyota Camry of supercomputers.

"It doesn't have a lot of pizzazz, but it keeps on running," Feng said.

While Green Destiny is not meant to replace today's large clusters and other supercomputers, Feng predicts that supercomputing in small spaces is another step toward making high-end computing more affordable.

For more information on Green Destiny please see

Access Online | Posted 10-22-2002