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Ars Technica: Inside The KLAT2 Supercomputer: The Flat Neighborhood Network & 3DNow!

Dec 04, 2000, 16:07 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Tim Mattox, Hank Dietz)

"In the history of supercomputing, there always has been the notion that super speed requires exotic technologies and monumental cost. Our newest supercomputer proves that if you use the right exotic technologies, you don't need much money -- not even as much as a "normal" Beowulf would cost. It's appropriate that we invested a good bit of engineering toward that goal; after all, the University of Kentucky's old slogan was "A Tradition Of Value."

"A popular measure of supercomputer speed is how many billions of floating-point arithmetic operations it can perform per second (GFLOPS) while executing a useful program. Less than a decade ago, supercomputers cost more than $1,000,000 per GFLOPS. Traditional supercomputers still cost around $10,000 for each GFLOPS delivered. Linux PC clusters, "Beowulfs" like LANL's Avalon, bring that cost down to around $3,000 per GFLOPS. It was the addition of two rather exotic new technologies to a Linux PC cluster that allowed us to get a GFLOPS for $650 each. The way to get super speed is parallel processing: executing multiple portions of a program simultaneously allows the program to complete in less time. The more parallelism you can use, the greater the potential speedup. A modern supercomputer doesn't really execute operations much faster than a high-end PC, it just executes more operations simultaneously. Thus, the key to making a cluster of PCs perform like a supercomputer is to use as much parallelism as possible."

"KLAT2, Kentucky Linux Athlon Testbed 2... made news not because it is yet another "Beowulf" cluster (YABC), but because it uses a couple of new technologies to improve the parallelism without increasing the cost of the system, thus achieving over 64 GFLOPS for about $41,000. The nicest thing about these two new technologies is that we implemented them by creating tools that anyone can use to build and program their own supercomputers. So, when you saw the stories about KLAT2's record price/performance, you were only seeing the result of the first application of these tools. The new supercomputing technologies that we developed for KLAT2 are

  • a new type of cluster interconnection network and
  • a way to exploit the power of 3DNow! in a cluster."

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