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  1. Technology
February 22, 1993


By CBR Staff Writer

You could be forgiven for thinking the only grand challenge IBM Corp faces is turning its profit and loss account around. But the company is now moving into the esoteric world of technical and scientific supercomputing – the Intel Corp-Meiko Scientific-Kendall Square Research Inc-Fujitsu Corp domain with its 9076 SP1 Scalar PowerParallel machine. It is the first of a promised family of RS/6000 RISC-based serial and parallel systems and part of the ‘parallel revolution’ that IBM believes is destined to transform both technical and commercial computing markets alike. Who knows? A parallel AS/400 might even surface one day, the company suggests. The ‘modestly’ parallel SP1 is intended as a step up from clusters of RS/6000s – connecting any more than five is cumbersome according to IBM – and a step towards massively parallel TeraFLOPS machines.

Packet switch

It comprises between eight and 64 62.5MHz Rios RISC processors delivering 125 MFLOPS peak performance and 64Mb to 256Mb memory on each node, and running under full AIX/6000 Version 3.2. System management is provided by a single RS/6000 control workstation running AIX/6000 and with AIX Windows access from other workstations. It runs IBM’s new 9076 system support programs for hardware monitoring and control and also has a 7208 model 001 tape drive for software installation. System performance and scalability, IBM says, is boosted by the SP1’s specially designed multi-stage packet switch, which provides ‘any to any’ connection between the processor nodes and ensures a constant 40Mbps peak bi-directional bandwidth and 500nS latency. The switch has been designed to support increasing numbers of nodes and will be used in future IBM supercomputers, the company says. This will enable users to transfer applications developed on one machine to another without fear of mismatches in timing – so removing a major headache for developers. Ease of programming and availability of software are key concerns for supercomputer vendors as IBM rightly recgnises. For instance it is offering a number of parallel application development packages – Linda, Express and PVM – alongside the AIX Parallel Environment Software that the company has developed itself for the SP1.

By Lynn Stratton

Forge 90 will also be available to run High Performance Fortran parallel programs on the SP1 and to help parallelise existing serial Fortran programs. And it has wasted no time in garnering the support of academic and commercial developers. Over 20 of them, drawn from the fields of computational chemistry, engineering and electronics analysis, petroleum exploration and mathematics have declared support for the SP1 just a few days after its release. They include BioSym Technologies Inc; Molecular Simulations Inc; Wavefunction Inc; Professors from the Columbia, Iowa, South Dakota and San Francisco universities; AVL GmbH; Computational Dynamics; Engineering Mechanics Research Corp; Engineering Systems International SA; Fluent Inc; Fluid Dynamics International; Livermore Software Technology Corp; The MacNeal Schwendler Corp; Silvaco International; and Eurosoft. New network-based scheduling software, LoadLeveler, has also been developed by IBM to assist general system performance. Loadleveler can support combinations of interactive, batch, serial and parallel workloads, which is important for users wanting to run a variety of jobs simultaneously – and particularly those in the process of migrating their applications to a parallel system. Conveniently, AIX/6000 applications will run on the SP1 – and future SP1 software packages will be also backwards compatible with clusters of RS/6000s. IBM intends that it will support other Unix workstations and clusters in the future. Loadleveler is compatible with Network Queuing System, Network File System, and the Andrew File System protocols – with Distributed File System extensions planned for the future. Data access is provided by a file server – either an RS/6000 or other Unix machine, which has to be provided by the user. The Fibre Channel Standard and FDDI interfaces

are supported and an SP1 Block Multiplexor will provide a direct connection to IBM 390 systems. Prices start at UKP240,000 which, IBM says, is better value in terms of cost per unit of computing power than conventional systems.

Mighty Quinn

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It happens also to be broadly comparable with the offerings already available from the other moderately parallel supercomputer vendors. The machines will be available from the third quarter onwards. Despite the fact that it is adding to the competition, IBM reckons its entry into parallel supercomputing has been welcomed by existing players on the grounds that once IBM blesses a technology, users that had been nervous about adopting it are prepared to take the plunge. The theory is that its involvement will strengthen the credibility of supercomputing and generate interest – as happened with personal computers. Perhaps this is the most significant impact the SP1 is destined to make on the world although the problem with the argument is that it represents Old IBM thinking – the company is no longer the Mighty Quinn and the industry no longer feels paralysed and unable to act until IBM arrives on the scene to legitimise a new technology.

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