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October 25, 1988


By CBR Staff Writer

A major extension to the architecture of the IPSC-2 concurrent supercomputer range from Intel Scientific Computers, based in the so called Parallel Valley in Beaverton, Oregon, looks set to take the systems into a wider range of applications, according to company founder and director of technology Justin Rattner. Supercomputing, says Rattner, can be defined as a method of changing compute-bound problems into input-output bound problems. So the company has boosted the input-output performance of the IPSC-2 with a new concurrent input-output subsystem, using dedicated 80386 processing nodes to control 700Mb disk drives via SCSI buses, and at the same time introduced a concurrent file system – CFS – which is claimed to distribute files and data across multiple disks automatically, allowing users to view the system as if it were a single-disk file system. A typical configuration would add eight dedicated input-output processors and 16 disks, giving 10.8Gb storage, to an existing IPSC-2 system for $300,000, but larger or smaller configurations are also available. As the individual 80386-based nodes (from 16 to 128 80386-based processors) are connected in a hypercube arrangement through a high speed communications network, Rattner says that the location of the dedicated input-output nodes does not matter – the IPSC-2 uses direct connect technology to allow routing between any processor without affecting intermediate processors, eliminating the overheads associated with the store and-forward architecture of the older IPSC-1. As well as disk storage, the input-output system supports connections to devices using Multibus II and VME-compatible interfaces – such as network controllers, graphics systems and analogue-to-digital converters – and each node can support up to seven devices. CFS is designed to simplify the management of multiple disks by automatically distributing blocks of files across available disk space, whilst presenting a standard Unix input-output interface to the programmer. So far, IPSC-2 systems have been sold mostly to the university and defence markets for computational mechanics and simulation applications, with 130 systems now out in the field. The boosted input-output capabilities should make the machine more attractive to companies relying on external information to feed applications, such as oil companies working on seismic analysis, and also commercial applications like financial modelling, transaction processing, database systems and electronic computer-aided design. Rattner said that an extension to CFS to allow support for the widely used Network File System from Sun Microsystems would be released later next year, allowing the system to be used as a multi-disk server, and that fault tolerant facilities were also being developed, allowing systems supporting over 100 disks by early 1990.

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