IBM shows Cell blade in action

A demo of the Cell blade server uses visualization software to display real-time, 3D video footage of a beating heart. Photos: IBM's blade overhaul

HANNOVER, Germany--IBM is showing off to the CeBit crowd a prototype blade server based on the Cell processor.

The company demonstrated the Cell blade server running visualization software to display real-time, 3D video footage of a beating heart. This allows a researcher to rotate the image of the heart and observe it from any angle, or filter out elements such as blood or certain tissue to give a transparent view into the center of the heart.

The demonstration requires a huge amount of data processing, but a blade server using the nine-core Cell chip is well equipped to handle such a workload, according to Utz Bacher, team leader for IBM's Linux on Cell development team.

blade overhaul

"Conventional computers find it very hard to cope with tasks such as transparency," Bacher told ZDNet UK. Bacher added that a Cell Blade server running visualization software would also be very useful in the oil industry, where companies want to filter masses of data in search of geological structures indicating oil deposits.

The Cell chip, which was designed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba, will also power Sony's PlayStation3 game console. It contains a PowerPC 970 processing core and eight DSP cores, which handle graphics or vector calculations. Each IBM Cell blade contains two Cell chips, with 1GB of DRAM shared between them.

Each Cell blade is twice the thickness of existing IBM blades so only seven will fit in a single blade chassis, rather than the 14 typical dual-processor non-Cell blades that can currently be fitted. The chassis displayed at the CeBit show, taking place here this week, contained six Cell blades.

IBM is planning to launch the Cell blades commercially in the third quarter. Pricing isn't yet available. It's also not clear exactly what the performance increase will be compared to existing blade servers.

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However, the Cell chips in the system on display at CeBit were running at 2.4GHz. Bacher said the commercial unit would run at between 2.4GHz and 4GHz.

There are several ways that IBM could improve the performance of the Cell blade in the future.

"Right now, we use a 90-nanometer manufacturing process for the chip. We could lower that to 60-nanometer, 45-nanometer or 30-nanometer," said Bacher, adding that IBM could also increase the amount of memory within each blade.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from Hannover, Germany.

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