Luebeck Looks to Clusters

German University will use its new blade cluster to research biomedical applications and I/O issues

July 15, 2005

3 Min Read
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The University of Luebeck in Germany is using a combination of Linux, InfiniBand, and specialized grid software as part of a new cluster to support its research into biomedical applications -- and clusters in general.

Dr. Peter Sobe, research assistant at the University, told NDCF that the cluster, named Magellan after the 16th Century explorer, was installed in spring 2004. It now contains eight server blades from Angstrom Microsystems, each with dual Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD) Opteron processors, and a total disk capacity of 640 Gigabytes.

The cluster, which is located within the Universitys Institute of Computer Engineering, is capable of a peak performance of 98 million operations per second, according to Sobe. Terragrid software from Montreal, Canada-based startup Terrascale Technologies Inc. provides access to I/O capacity across the cluster.

The software works with an InfiniBand switch from Topspin Communications Inc. to turn the network into “what looks like a global disk drive” to which all the machines can read and write, according to Gautham Sastri, Terrascale’s CEO.

Though Gigabit Ethernet is also deployed within the cluster, InfiniBand is the main transport. “At the time of purchase [InfiniBand] was the best choice in transfer capacity, price, and availability,” Sobe says.This unusual configuration is important, says Professor Erik Maehle, the director of the Institute, because there is still plenty of work to be done examining clusters. “We are convinced that I/O problems in cluster computing still require considerable research,” he says.

Researchers at Luebeck are using the cluster to test applications built around the Message Passing Interface (MPI) standard, a method for transferring data between processors in a cluster. The cluster is also used to support Luebeck’s research into biomedical applications, and it is used for student course on parallel programming, Sobe says.

Sobe says the Terragrid software did not replace a product from another vendor. Though he was unwilling to tell NDCF the value of Terrascale’s deal with Luebeck, he cites cost savings and better productivity as potential benefits for the University. The Institute has not quantified any specific savings, he adds.

Magellan is only one part of Luebeck’s cluster story. The University also runs three separate Linux-based PC clusters, containing a total of 64 PCs and 122 Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) Pentium processors. Like Magellan, the PC clusters use Linux. Their networking connectivity is Gigabit Ethernet and Myrinet.

Although he would not divulge too many specific details, Sobe confirmed that there are plans to combine the blade and PC clusters for research into network computing.This isn't a unique concept: PCs are being examined for use in a range of high-performance applications. Car manufacturer Daimler-Chrysler, for example, has already experimented with a workstation-based grid for running compute-intensive crash test simulations (see Europe Not Grid Locked, Texas Tech Goes for Grid, and Daimler Maps Grid Savings).

There is a decidedly nautical theme to Luebeck’s Institute of Computer Engineering. The University refers to its collection of clusters as the Stortebecker fleet, named after a pirate who once terrorized the Baltic.

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum

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