US Defense Department plans 512-processor Linux cluster

The US Department of Defense (DOD) Friday said it plans within the next few months to install a 512-processor Linux cluster that's supposed to be able to process 478 billion calculations per second at a computing facility in Hawaii for use in applications such as tracking and fighting wildfires across the country.

The supercomputer is being built by IBM at the DOD-affiliated Maui High Performance Computing Center and will be used by the DOD, other government agencies and academic institutions. In addition to tracking fires, uses eyed for the cluster include environmental research and defense projects related to warfighting efforts.

The announcement by IBM and the DOD is the latest in a string of Linux-based supercomputer projects that have been unveiled in the past few months. In January, for example, supercomputer initiatives involving the open-source operating system were announced by both IBM and Compaq Computer.

Dave Gelardi, director of deep computing projects for IBM, said the US Forest Service plans to use the Maui cluster to track and predict the speed, spread rate and other movements of wildfires in an effort to improve firefighting efforts. The system will conduct weather simulation modeling and perform complex weather calculations, he said.

The machine is being built using 256 of IBM's eServer x330 thin servers, each containing two Pentium III processors. The servers are being linked together via clustering software made by Myricom Inc. in Arcadia, Calif., and high-speed networking hardware. The exact price of the machine isn't being released, but Gelardi said it's under US$10 million.

Dr. Frank Gilfeather, executive director of the High Performance Computing Education and Research Center in Maui, said in a statement that he expects Linux cluster technology to "pervade the DOD's computing centers" within the next few years. Gilfeather's operation administers the Maui facility, which is affiliated with the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque through an agreement with the US Air Force Research Laboratory.

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