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Supercomputing in Small Spaces

As the super-computing community continues to aggregate larger and larger clusters of machines, the cost and size of the resulting supercomputer increases tremendously.

Where as the traditional "price / performance" ratio addresses the question "What is the highest performance supercomputer I can afford to buy?" it does not address the more important question "What is the highest performance supercomputer that I can afford to own?"

The cost of owning a supercomputer can be broken down in the following way. Note that the traditional price / performance metric only includes acquisition which is one of the many costs associated with owning a supercomputer.

Because of the magnitude of the costs beyond those necessary for acquisition, especially for top of the line supercomputers, we feel that the total cost of ownership / performance is the best metric for comparing various supercomputing options.

At SC 2001, we demonstrated the ability to build and run real codes on a 15-GFlop 24-node Transmeta 3U form factor cluster made by RLX Technologies. Although the peak performance was less than what would have been obtained by using higher performance CPUs, the cooler running Transmeta chips allowed higher density, along with lower cooling and power requirements. Thus dramatically lowering the most tangible of the total costs of ownership.

What was not demonstrated was the ease with which the cluster can be installed and administered. All the nodes are hot swappable and required no tools for installation. The administration software makes configuration fast, flexible and easy from a remote location. Finally, the reliability the cluster has be exemplary.