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Unisys Tests High-Performance Wintel Computing at CTC

Unisys Corp. will collaborate with Cornell University’s Cornell Theory Center (CTC) to test high-performance computing solutions based on its ES7000 servers.

CTC executive director Linda Callahan says CTC will deploy two ES7000 systems, a 32-way Xeon MP-based server and a 16-way Itanium 2-based box. CTC will test its two ES7000 systems with a range of applications that are typically hosted on high-end Unix systems from the likes of IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc, Callahan says.

“The ES7000 is going to be competing with those [Unix operating systems],” she says. “We didn’t consider them because we have a focus on industry standard computing, [and] they’re much more expensive than inexpensive to manage. The ES7000 was just a natural choice.”

Although Unisys’ ES7000 systems are capable of running at least two flavors of Unix – Caldera’s UnixWare 7 and OpenUnix 8 – CTC will host Windows 2000 Datacenter Server Edition on both its Xeon MP- and Itanium 2-based ES7000 systems. Callahan says that CTC selected Windows 2000 Datacenter Server Edition over Unix or Linux because it is pursuing a TCO-driven approach to high-performance computing. In this regard, Windows’ ubiquity could make it cheaper to manage and program for, she argues.

“The whole idea is to simply high performance computing, so you have Windows operating systems all across the desktops," Callahan says. "So why not standardize from the lowest end to the highest end, the idea being [that] that would lead to simplified administration, reduced TCO and increased performance?”

Callahan suggests that Windows 2000 Datacenter Server Edition has “a lot of capabilities that will help us to develop applications that hide the complexity of high performance computing.”

Tom Manter, a director who heads up Unisys’ database marketing program, says that his company’s work with CTC comprises the opening salvo in an initiative to challenge the RISC-Unix servers that have traditionally dominated the high performance computing space.

“The competition is the Unix-RISC, and the types of problems that they have traditionally solved,” he says. “If you go out and compare the ES7000 not to a collection of small severs, but … to what IBM has with its RS6000 SP clusters, or HP has with Superdome, or Sun with SunFire, that’s essentially what we have.”

To that end, continues Unisys’ director of business development Joe Zeccardi, CTC and Unisys will collaborate to develop applications that are designed to support high-performance computing on the ES7000. The goal, Zeccardi continues, is to demonstrate the capabilities of Windows running on top of Intel-based platforms as a cost-effective and alternative for high-performance computing.

“We expect to prove that Windows and Intel is a much more cost effective combination [than RISC-Unix],” he says.

Manter says that his company is applying a “scale-up and scale-out” approach to high-performance computing. Unisys’ work with CTC on the latter’s new ES7000 systems will comprise the scale-up portion of its high-performance computing strategy, he confirms, but his company will also concentrate on “validating the clustering of large systems” as part of its scale-out strategy, as well.

SQL Server a Hit for Scientific Computing?

Callahan says that one of the first applications that CTC plans to deploy on its new ES7000 systems is a “very complex, large-scale engineering application” that crunches numbers for the computation of fractured mechanics -– the laws that govern how cracks form in bodies such as aircraft fuselages or buildings.

“It’s a scientific application that’s taking advantage of Microsoft SQL Server,” she confirms.

In light of CTC’s requirements, one of Datacenter Server’s biggest selling points is the availability of SQL Server 2000, Callahan affirms.

“We have quite a bit of experience [with SQL Server] both in [fractured mechanics] and in bio informatics, and we think that it’s a great database,” she comments. “It’s much easier to use than other databases, it’s very easy to program for. We [don’t have any] concerns about its scalability.”

Another very satisfied SQL Server user is Dr. Alex Szalay, an Alumni Centennial Professor at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Szalay and John Hopkins are participants in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS), a joint project among research universities and scientific organizations to catalogue a portion of the observable universe.

During an interview earlier this year, Dr. Szalay indicated that he planned to use an Itanium-based system provided by the former Compaq Computer Corp. to host the 1 TB database that is required to support the complex calculations associated with SDSS.

Szalay says that he didn’t consider tapping 64-bit platforms from vendors such as Sun, HP or IBM primarily because of the work that he had been doing (on IA-32) with SQL Server 2000. “We are able to get incredibly fast sequential scanning performance out of SQL Server,” he says. “We can anticipate about 10 percent of the most likely queries, but most of the queries we have to scan, so we have to have fast sequential scanning.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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