High Performance Computing

Linux PC's

Who could have predicted that the benign PC of the 80's would once become the center piece of the world's most powerful computers? Well, if you were knowledgable about disruptive technologies, you might have...
HP XW9400 Workstation
When the Linux Operating System was mated with the ever more powerful Intel based processors and nVidia graphics, a serious engineering workstation was born. With prices far below those of the specialized UNIX™ workstations, the writing was on the wall.

In high performance computing, a computer typically only has a life span of three years. Then performance demands are such that it must be replaced with something more powerful. The specialized UNIX™ engineering workstations have never found a use outside of engineering, so they had to be discarded. The Linux workstations can live on a few more years, after their high performance computing duties are over, in less demanding positions, elsewhere in the company, where they may even run Microsoft Windows™. This allows CAE engineers and accountants to become friends. Wink
Available software helps to integrate Linux and Windows™ computers into a single environment. Popular Microsoft™ applications can run directly on top of Linux.

Cluster Computing

Common, off the shelf PC workstations can be combined into a high performance analysis cluster.
Computer Cluster
Each node may have multiple processors and each processor may have multiple cores. The nodes are interconnected with a high speed interface, such as the Infiniband™ interconnect, which runs at 10 Gbit/s. CPU speed, memory size and bandwidth must be carefully balanced to get the maximum performance. Analysis software, modified to make use of Distributed Memory Parallel (DMP) processing, is used to let each node take on part of the problem. I built my first cluster with 4 dual 2.2 GHz Xeon HP systems and a gigabit switch. The second one comprised 8 IBM systems with dual 2.4 GHz AMD Opteron processors and an Infiniband switch. The lastest one still has 8 nodes, but they each have two dual core Xeon 5160 CPUs. Already looking forward to the quad core chips!
Job scheduling applications allow the 8-node cluster to be sub-divided into 4, 8, 16, 32 or even 64 cpu cores. This gives flexibility to either run a single big job through as fast as possible or run multiple jobs in parallel. Efficiency diminishes as more nodes are added, so subdividing the cluster may be the most effective way to run multiple jobs in a shared resources environment.
The performance of the fastest compute clusters is measured with a benchmark and posted on the Top Crunch web site for bragging rights.
CPU Configuration*)Speed-up Factor
1 x 1 x 1 =  1  1.0
1 x 2 x 1 =  2  1.5
1 x 2 x 2 =  4  2.5
4 x 1 x 1 =  4  3.7
4 x 2 x 1 =  8  6.0
8 x 2 x 1 = 16  9.0
8 x 2 x 2 = 3212.2
*) 4x2x1 denotes 4 nodes, with each 2 cpu's, with each 1 core.
An analysis cluster is typically kept in an air-conditioned server room with other dedicated computers, such as the application, web, and database servers, to dissipate the heat generated. The system administrator can access the computers there, or with the right equipment, also from half way across the world. My set up, with networked KVM switch, is such that an analysis cluster in Australia can be administred from my home and monitored through a web browser. The status web page gives a quick overview of the systems with colors indicating the status of the servers: Black for systems that are off line; Blue for systems that are available but idle; Green for systems that are in use, but have reserve capacity (typically running at about 50%); Orange for systems that are running at full capacity, using all CPUs and cores; Red for systems that are overloaded which, if it becomes structural, indicates a capacity problem. One click on the monitor icon gives me detailed information about the system.
Cluster/DMP server Cluster/DMP server Web server
2x Xeon 5160 3.0GHz 2x Xeon 5160 3.0GHz 2x Opteron 3.2GHz
Cluster/DMP server Cluster/DMP server Database server
2x Xeon 5160 3.0GHz 2x Xeon 5160 3.0GHz 2x Opteron 3.2GHz
Cluster/DMP server Cluster/DMP server Application server
2x Xeon 5160 3.0GHz 2x Xeon 5160 3.0GHz 2x Opteron 3.2GHz
Cluster/DMP server Cluster/DMP server Backup server
2x Xeon 5160 3.0GHz 2x Xeon 5160 3.0GHz 2x Opteron 3.2GHz
Likewise the user workstations can be anywhere within the local area network or, like mine, in the wide area network. Their performance is of less importance, although good graphics performance helps. My systems may have Intel Xeons CPUs as well as dual and quad core AMD Opteron CPUs running at a variety of clock speeds from 2.0 GHz to 3.6 GHz and all sport nVIDIA graphics.

Just because it seems that every workstation these days is based on Intel architecture and the Linux Operating Systems, doesn't mean that I haven't enjoyed the previous generation of UNIX™ based computer systems with RISC* architecture CPUs or the exotics from Cray, Alliant, Gould, and others before that. I did. From TNO in The Netherlands we connected to the Cray-YMP of the SARA Center of the University of Amsterdam. One late night in 1990 I was connected from my home, through my 1200 Baud modem, to TNO and via the "Internet" to the YMP. I typed in "who" to see who was all working on the computer that night. There was no-one. I had the Cray all to myself... That made my neck hairs stand up! :-)

All throughout the '90 I loved the Silicon Graphics workstations with their Mips cpu's and performance graphics. I even had some myself.
*) RISC stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computer

Purple Beauty

SGI Indigo R4000/Elan

Having used Silicon Graphics computers professionally since 1989, it was only a matter of time for one to occupy space in my own office. The supply and demand lines finally crossed each other in January 1997. My primary use of the SGI Indigo was in software development. However, it was also used for Internet access and Domain Name Services.
This "Purple Beauty" looked into the world through the desirable 20'' Sony Trinitron, making the most of the ELAN graphics with 24 bitplanes and hardware Z-buffer. It ran Irix 6.2 and boasted 64 Mb RAM and 5 Gb disc space.

SGI Indy R5000

An then there were two...(11/98)
The Indy provided faster processing than the Indigo, with its MIPS R5000 processor running at 180 MHz. The primary use of the Indy was Engineering Analysis where the extra processing power was most useful. It had the same colorful 24-bit desktop, displayed on a 20'' Sony Trinitron. It also ran Irix 6.2 on 64 Mb of RAM and had a 16 Gb hard disk. It hosted a floppy and a DAT drive. It transparently shared all its resources with its older sister.
Half Blue

Dell Dimension XPS T500

The Accountant wanted to run "Peachtree" and the Program Manager needed access to industry standard Presentation and Program Management software for compatibility with the rest of the business world. So on the brink of the new millennium an Intel/Microsoft Windows 98™ box was acquired.
PC For several years it ran the first line office duties, then it served as my test bed for various flavors of Linux, now it is running Windows XP™ and is hooked up to the wide screen tv in the living room for its monitor. In its new capacity it serves to browse the internet for the weather, tv programming, and background information as well as "video phone" instant messaging with family and friends in the rest of the world. With its 500MHz Intel Pentium III processor it is just about powerful enough to do that. It has 640 Mb of RAM, a 13.5 Gb hard disk, a DVD, CDRW, a camera and microphone.

Acorn R260

Acorn Archimedes R260

Up to the arrival of the Indigo (1/97) the Acorn R260 used to run RISCiX, a (quite capable) BSD UNIX. Lack of development made that eventually obsolete. Subsequently it ran its native RISC OS (3.10) operating system. It ran applications for all the usual office duties from 1989 till 1999. Then it served a few more years beating me at chess, then my friends and family made me turn the switch on it (because nobody needed that many computers...). The R260 faced the world through a 15'' Sony Trinitron monitor. It had 8 Mb RAM and 600 Mb disc space.
Today the ARM chip that was the heart of the Acorn R260, lives on (as the "Snapdragon") in many PDA's, cell phones and calculators.

BBC Model B

Ah, the venerable BBC-B computer. The one that taught me the love for computers, software, and everything associated with it. With Analog to Digital converters, serial, parallel, and an 8-bit I/O port it had all the interfacing capabilities for exciting hardware projects. With its 8-bit 1.8MHz MOS 6502 processor, linear memory, assembler, BASIC, Pascal, Forth, BCPL, sound and graphics it had everything you needed to understand and enjoy computing and learn how to program. It came with good games too. The most famous one being Elite!, but there were many others that allowed stress relieve during software bug hunts.
The original system came with just 32 kb RAM. I had dual 320 kB floppy drives and a 10 Mb hard drive. It came with an expansion bus that allowed a co-processor (with memory) to be attached to the base unit. These co-processors (I had the Intel 80186 as well as the NS 32016) were much more powerful and extended the life of the BBC-B all the way into the nineties. There are still enthusiasts out there that keep them alive after some thirty years. Rightfully so! I pity the kid who has to get the love of computing from a modern day PC or tablet.

Casio FX-700P

The Casio FX-700P was my first computer, being that it was programmable in BASIC. I have had it since 1983. It once boasted a sixth order (+ square root) polynomial RMS approximation program that could calculate a wing profile.
I remember it fondly for three reasons.
  1. It was still holding together despite numerous dings and despite loosing all original screws.
  2. I have never found a worthy successor.
  3. It had the sympathetic message "READY P0" written on the display.
Casio FX-700

Roark's Formulas for Stress and Strain If all else fails: The Slide Ruler!
Slide ruler
No computer will ever enslave me!

The table below lists some other computers I've met and their relative CPU performance. They are all indexed against the DEC MicroVAX II using Digital Research Labs' benchmarking routines. For multi-processor systems the single CPU performance is listed.

System Architecture and CPU OS MVUPs Year1
DEC MicroVAX II with KA630-AA (78032/78132) @ 5 MHz VMS 1.0 1986
Acorn R260 ARM3/FPA10 @ 26 MHz RISCiX 1.21c 4.6 1989
SGI 4D20 Mips R2000A/R2010A @ 12 MHz (IP6) IRIX 4.0.5 8.9 1989
SGI 4D25 Mips R2000A/R2010A @ 20 MHz (IP6) IRIX 4.0.5 15.8 1989
Cray Y-MP Unicos 7.0.5 194.1 1989
SGI 4D440 Mips R3000/R3010 @ 40 MHz (4 cpu's) (IP7) IRIX 4.0.5 37.0 1991
SGI 4D35 Mips R3000/R3000 @ 36 MHz (IP12) IRIX 4.0.5 31.7 1991
SGI Indigo Mips R3000/R3000 @ 33 MHz (IP12) IRIX 4.0.5 28.2 1992
IBM RS6000 / 34H POWER Arch. @ 42 MHz AIX 3.2.5 65.1 1993
Compaq / Intel 80386 DX 33 MHz, IIT 80C387 Linux 0.99.11 2.6 1993
Cray C98/4256 Unicos 7.C.3 243.4 1993
Sun 4c SPARK cpu + TI fpu @ 40 MHz SunOs 4.1.1 23.0 1993
SGI Indigo XZ Mips R4000/R4010 @ 100 MHz (IP20) IRIX 6.2 62.0 1993
SGI Indigo Extreme Mips R4400/R4010 @ 150 MHz (IP22) IRIX 97.2 1994
DEC 3000_500 Alpha @ 100 MHz OSF/1 1.2.10 97.2 1994
HP PA 9000/715 @ 50 MHz (PA-RISK 1.1) HPUX A.09.01 69.8 1994
SGI Indy Mips R4600/R4610 @ 100 MHz (IP22) IRIX 5.2 59.3 1994
SGI Indigo2 XZ Mips R8000/R8010 @ 75 MHz (IP26) IRIX64 6.0.1 125.2 1994
Cray C90 Unicos 8.0.3 341.9 1994
Cray J90 (4 CPUs) Unicos 8.0.3 263.9 1995
SGI Indy Mips R5000/R5000 @ 180 MHz (IP22) IRIX 6.2 204.1 1996
SGI Indigo2 Mips R10000 @ 195MHz (IP28) IRIX 6.2 624.5 1996
HP C200 PA 9000/782 @ 200 MHz (PA-RISK 1.1) HPUX B.10.20 269.8 1998
HP C240 PA 9000/800 @ 240 MHz (PA-RISK 1.1) (4 CPUs) HPUX B.11.00 317.7 1999
Sun Ultra-Enterprise 500/6500 (4 CPUs) SunOS 5.6 238.4 1999
Dell XPS T500 Intel Pentium III @ 500 MHz Linux 2.2.14 412.9 2000
Compaq AP500 Intel Pentium III @ 550 MHz Linux 2.2.14 455.2 2000
HP C550 PA 9000/785 @ 550 MHz (PA-RISK 2.0) HPUX B.11.00 1304.0 2001
Compaq EVO W6000 Pentium III Xeon @ 2.2 GHz (2 CPUs) Linux 2.4.7 1398.0 2002
Compaq EVO W6000 Pentium III Xeon @ 2.4 GHz (2 CPUs) Linux 2.4.18 1456.4 2002
HP xw6000 Pentium III Xeon @ 2.8 GHz (2 CPUs) Linux 2.4.18 1869.9 2003
Dell Inspiron 5150 Pentium 4HT @ 3.06 GHz Linux 2.4.21-4 2370.2 2004
HP xw6000 Intel Xeon @ 3.2 GHz (2 CPUs) Linux 2.4.21-9 2577.6 2004
IBM Intellistation AMD Opteron 250 @ 2.4 GHz (2 CPUs) Linux 2.4.21-9 3996.0 2005
4 x 1 x 1 cluster AMD Opteron 250 @ 2.4 GHz (Infiniband)2 Linux 2.6.9-45 14800.0 2006
4 x 2 x 1 cluster AMD Opteron 250 @ 2.4 GHz (Infiniband)2 Linux 2.6.9-45 24000.0 2007
8 x 2 x 1 cluster AMD Opteron 250 @ 2.4 GHz (Infiniband)2 Linux 2.6.9-45 36000.0 2007
8 x 2 x 2 cluster Intel Xeon 5160 @ 3.0 GHz (Infiniband)2 Linux 2.6.18-53 49000.0 2008
1) The year listed signifies the year the system was benchmarked rather than the year it was first released.
2) The lastest computers and clusters are too fast for the DRL benchmark to be used any longer.
     We have switched to a new benchmark and scaled the numbers back to the DRL benchmark numbers.

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