After achieving international honors and accolades for building System X, the fastest supercomputer at any academic institution in the world (November, 2003 TOP500 List), Virginia Tech announced today that its rebuilt System X is now operating at 12.25 teraflops.

"Virginia Tech will learn of its new ranking when the list is unveiled in November of this year at SuperComputing 2004 in Pittsburgh," said Srinidhi Varadarajan, the lead designer of the system. "We expect to do well."

"This new number is an increase of almost two teraflops over the original System X," said Hassan Aref, dean of Virginia Tech's College of Engineering. "We are extremely pleased with the performance, using the new Apple machines."

Virginia Tech revealed plans to migrate its cluster of Power Mac G5 desktop computers to Apple's new Xserve G5 in January. The Xserve G5, the most powerful Xserve yet, delivers over 18 gigaflops of peak double-precision processing power per system and features the same revolutionary PowerPC G5, 64-bit processor used in Virginia Tech's original cluster of 1,100 Power Mac G5s.

When Virginia Tech used the G5s, it was establishing that a radically different communications technology could be used to create a large-scale scientific computing platform. After proving the technology worked, Virginia Tech moved to the Xserve G5 cluster due to its server optimized architecture, computing power per unit density, and ground-breaking performance and innovative management tools.

The original System X operated at 10.28 teraflops for the official records, but its peak theoretical performance was rated at 17.7 teraflops.

When Virginia Tech renegotiated with Apple to upgrade System X, the computer company arranged for 1100 very special Xserve G5 servers to power their System X Supercluster. These systems were custom built by Apple for Virginia Tech utilizing dual 2.3GHz G5 processors. This configuration was developed specifically for Virginia Tech, and Apple currently has no plans to offer 2.3GHz processors in the Xserve G5 product line.

Varadarajan and Cal Ribbens, both of Virginia Tech's Computer Science Department in the College of Engineering, confirmed the new benchmark numbers after numerous operations since August. Kevin Shinpaugh and Jason Lockhart, associate directors of the Terascale Computing Facility, assisted on this project, as well as other members of the engineering college and the information technology office.

The supercomputer is part of the University's Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science (ICTAS). ICTAS fosters multi-disciplinary, large research projects. The grand challenge problems in science and engineering that can only be solved by a powerful supercomputer meet these criteria.

"We believed that we could build a very high performance machine for a fifth to a tenth of the cost of what supercomputers now cost, and we did," Aref, a former chief scientist at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, said. "And we wanted to have our own supercomputer to use for ICTAS where we will be conducting multidisciplinary work on such topics as nanoelectronics, aerodynamics, and the molecular modeling of proteins. With this machine, our researchers will be able to build computer modeling in days, not years."

The additional cost to rebuild System X was about $600,000, and it included 50 additional nodes. The original cost of System X was $5.2 million.

In addition to the companies that participated in the first design of System X — Apple, Mellanox Technologies, Emerson Network Power, and Cisco — Small Tree Communications, a Mac network solutions provider, will be instrumental in the operations of the rebuilt supercomputer. "Although we did not use Small Tree's technology in the benchmarking, its software will keep our communications system current and up to date," Varadarajan said.

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