Shell Building Linux Supercomputer with IBM

The oil exploration unit of Royal Dutch Shell Group Inc. yesterday said it's working with IBM Corp. to build a massive Linux-based supercomputer that will link together 1,024 servers running the open-source operating system.

Shell International Exploration & Production B.V. plans to use the clustered system to analyze seismic data and other geophysical information as part of its efforts to find new supplies of oil. The rack-mounted IBM X-Series servers being used in the supercomputer will be equipped with Red Hat Inc.'s version of Linux and provide a total of more than 2TFLOPS of computing power, Shell said.

The supercomputer is scheduled to be installed next month at a Shell facility in the Netherlands, where the company is based. Oil producers such as Shell need lots of processing horsepower to analyze the massive amounts of data collected during underground searches, in which explosions are set off in an attempt to determine the location of oil reserves based on sound waves collected by sensors.

Shell isn't the first oil company to bet big on Linux. Energy conglomerate Conoco Inc. announced last summer that it had built and deployed a Linux-based supercomputer for similar uses in analyzing seismic data.

Steve Solazzo, a Linux vice president at IBM, said the sale to Shell offers more evidence that Linux is starting to be accepted by corporate users as a viable operating system for at least some applications.

"We believe Linux is ready to cross the chasm and really move into the mainstream," Solazzo said. In Shell's case, he added, going with open-source Linux and hardware based on Intel Corp.'s microprocessors saved the oil company lots of money compared with the cost of a traditional supercomputer.

Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass., said the high-powered cluster being built by Shell and IBM "falls right in line with what our surveys show is often a use of Linux systems." The deal is also another example of the return that IBM is starting to see from its commitment to selling Linux-based machines, he added.

The Shell deal is the latest in a string of big Linux deployments IBM has announced in recent months. For example, IBM last month said it was selling 15,200 small-scale Linux servers to Japanese convenience-store chain Lawson Inc. for retail uses.

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