ClearSpeed boosts IBM cluster performance

IBM's System Cluster 1350 is getting a floating-point boost from a specialized co-processor developed by ClearSpeed.

IBM plans to use special high-performance motherboards developed by ClearSpeed in its clustering products for high-performance computing, the companies announced Tuesday.

ClearSpeed makes co-processors and motherboards that other chip and server vendors use to augment their products. Its Advance Boards will become part of IBM's System Cluster 1350 product in the second half of this year, said Michael Calise, president of the company.

High-performance computing has been gravitating toward the cluster model for many years. Instead of using large servers with dozens of processors, businesses and universities have found it cheaper and easier to link together many different one-processor or two-processor servers based on Intel or Advanced Micro Devices' chips, said Peter Foulkes, a U.S. marketing manager.

But many organizations need to take advantage of the large pools of shared memory and powerful processors in a big SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) server like IBM's Power-based servers, so they have both clusters and large servers in their environments, he said. The System Cluster 1350 combines both types of systems into a preconfigured package that customers don't have to put together themselves.

That architecture, on its own, can't produce the floating-point performance that a specialized co-processor from ClearSpeed can, Calise said. ClearSpeed's Advance Board enables the cluster to offload applications that need floating-point performance to the co-processor, freeing up processing resources for other tasks. This makes the overall system more efficient and can also cut power consumption, since ClearSpeed's motherboards consume less power than most server processors, he said.

ClearSpeed's boards currently are compatible with only x86 servers using chips from Intel and AMD, Foulkes said. As part of its relationship with IBM, the company is looking into expanding its support to include IBM's Power processors, he said.

AMD recently announced a project to open up its Opteron processors to allow co-processor vendors to plug directly into the chip. Calise declined to comment on whether ClearSpeed was working on AMD's Torrenza project.

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