Los Alamos National Laboratory has unveiled what it calls "supercomputing in small spaces".
Scientists there have built a 240-processor machine - a Beowulf cluster called Green Destiny - by using hundreds of blade servers utilising Transmeta chips.
A team of three researchers - led by Wu-chun Feng, team leader of the Research and Development in Advanced Network Technology (Radiant) group at Los Alamos - built the system. They claim it is much smaller, consumes less power and is more cost-effective than typical supercomputers.
Along with his colleagues Michael Warren and Eric Weigle, Fenn said a new technique was needed for measuring the performance of supercomputers.
They argued that the cost of electrical power consumption, operations, computer floor space and lost computing time due to system failures and crashes are significant factors that should be figured into the price-to-performance ratio.
According to the researchers, supercomputers of the future may very well be similar to their Bladed Beowulf: "small, extremely stable and miserly in their power use".
The cluster systems architecture called Bladed Beowulf was initially made up of 24 server blades mounted into a chassis only 5.25in high that fit in a rack-mountable space.
But the 24 were not enough and the group, with the help of RLX Technologies, put together a rack of 240 blade servers, which was originally designed not as a supercomputer but as a powerful web server for the Radiant group.
According to Feng, bigger and faster machines are simply not good enough anymore.
The hardware and software advantages of Beowulf are clear, he said. "They result in a two - to fivefold savings in cost as traditional supercomputer centres explicitly incur additional costs in space, maintenance, administration, operation and consulting.
"In contrast to the traditional transistor-laden and hence power-hungry CPUs from AMD and Intel, the Crusoe CPU is fundamentally software-based with a small hardware core," Feng wrote in a white paperabout the project.
"Because of the substantial difference in power dissipation, the Transmeta processor requires no active cooling, whereas a Pentium 4 and most definitely an IA-64 processor can heat to the point of failure if it's not aggressively cooled," Feng wrote.
Gordon Bell, known as the "father of supercomputing", and Linus Torvalds, creator of the Linux operating system, joined representatives of RLX Technologies, which made the blades, at the Los Alamos National Lab's recent unveiling.
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