Scott Studham is running a massive chemistry modeling program at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richmond, Wash., and he is relying on 64-bit Linux to do the job.
Studham, the technical lead of the lab’s molecular science computing facility, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, uses a $24.5 million supercomputer to crunch enormous volumes of data for rapid environmental analysis of chemical spills or the seepage of radioactive waste.
The supercomputer is actually a giant cluster of Itanium-based Hewlett-Packard systems running Linux, using 1,900 Itanium chips in more than 950 nodes with 12GB of memory in each node. Begun in May 2002, the cluster was upgraded this summer with the latest Itanium 2 processors.
“We now have the eighth most powerful computer system in the world, all of it on Linux,” Studham says. Linux was an easy choice, he adds. “It was the most cost-effective option for us.”
The first niche 64-bit Linux is finding is with IT managers overseeing high-performance computing tasks, thanks to the compelling combination of low-cost open source software and commodity-priced 64-bit power. “There are high-performance computational research facilities at academic institutions, and at financial institutions, that use software for risk analysis and equity management that are very interested in 64-bit Linux,” says Dan Kusnetzky, a system software analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. “What we are seeing is a microprocessor that brings that kind of computing down to a lower-cost platform that may lead people who wouldn’t have considered it before to now find it interesting.”
At State University of New York at Buffalo, Russ Miller is weighing which 64-bit Linux system to deploy at the university’s Center for Computational Research, where he is director. The supercomputing center includes a cluster comprised of 300 Dell PowerEdge 2650 servers, each with dual Intel Xeon processors running Red Hat Linux.
“We are going to be evaluating 64-bit Linux,” Miller says. “We have a variety of systems including multiple Dell clusters, [and 64-bit systems from] Sun and IBM. We will be exploring commodity systems based on Itanium and Opteron, based on operating systems we can work with in the community, i.e. Linux. With Linux, we can put work out in the community so the user-base can do preliminary version testing and development of code.”
Besides organizations running high-performance clusters, enterprises typically are not yet ready for 64-bit Linux. “We just moved over to [32-bit] Linux, but I don’t see us using 64-bit Linux for two years,” says Jorge Borbolla, CIO of AutoTradeCenter, a Mesa, Ariz.-based online car-auction company, which recently implemented a Hewlett-Packard ProLiant-based Oracle 9i RAC system to run its business applications on Red Hat’s Enterprise Linux AS 2.1 operating system.
Nevertheless, Studham believes enterprises with less-intensive computing needs will naturally progress to 64-bit Linux. “We used to have 16-bit programs and we went to 32-bits,” he says. “At some point we had to have 64-bits. Eventually it will be normal to use 4GB of memory, and when we get there it will be normal to run [systems on] 64-bits.”