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Sandia Blasts Off Blade Cluster

The Combustion Research Facility (CRF) at the U.S. Department of Energys Sandia National Labs has replaced a supercomputer in favor of a powerful Linux-based cluster of blade servers for key energy research.

CRF joins the growing ranks of academic and government customers eschewing expensive monolithic systems to build high-powered clusters from standard pieces of hardware (see Luebeck Looks to Clusters and Statoil Builds Dell Cluster).

“It’s fairly well known that commodity computing is the cheapest hardware that you can get,” says Joe Oefelein, senior member of technical staff at the facility. “Our budgets are limited and what this does is maximize what we can get for a fixed dollar amount.”

The CRF, which studies energy conversion for the likes of power plants and industrial furnaces, started building the cluster last August, when it installed 72 blades from Penguin Computing Inc. Each blade contains two Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD) Opteron processors and runs the Linux operating system.

As well as supporting day-to-day research, the cluster is used to "stage" complex one-off projects before they are deployed on larger DoE supercomputers. These include sophisticated modeling of flame extinction and reignition, says Oefelein. “What we need is the in-house capability to do the day-to-day science, but also stage up to the more ‘grand challenge’ type of calculations."

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