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Crash test penguin? Chrysler meets Linux

DaimlerChrysler buys 108 dual-processor Linux workstations from IBM to run car-crash simulations, highlighting the spread of the low-cost "cluster" supercomputer technique.

DaimlerChrysler has purchased 108 dual-processor Linux workstations from IBM to run car-crash simulations, highlighting the spread of the low-cost "cluster" supercomputer technique beyond the academic domain.

The Chrysler division will use the workstations to create computer simulations of wrecks, an expensive task because of the mammoth calculation requirement, but still a way to save money compared with building and destroying prototype vehicles. In addition to the computers, IBM will provide storage systems and will install the collection, the companies plan to announce Monday.

DaimlerChrysler has been using computers to simulate crashes since the early 1990s, first with single supercomputers, then with clusters of systems running Unix. Now the company is switching to less-expensive systems with Intel processors running Red Hat's version of the Linux operating system, DaimlerChrysler said.

These "cluster" supercomputers made of low-cost Linux computers are chiefly an academic phenomenon, where researchers have tight budgets along with the expertise to assemble their own supercomputers. Increasingly, Linux clusters--also known as Beowulf clusters--are moving into the commercial domain.

Beowulf clusters are good for brute-force tasks, but some users have begun applying the systems to jobs that require more finesse, such as chip design and financial analysis.

For example, digital animation studios such as DreamWorks and Pixar began their Linux use with large "render farms" to flesh out skeletal images. But they later started using Beowulf clusters to create the skeletons as well.

Mainstream computing companies such as IBM, Dell Computer and Hewlett-Packard started selling clusters as early as 1999, but the products now are regular items on a price list rather than more customized products built on a case-by-case basis.

The Chrysler system uses 108 IBM IntelliStation M Pro 6850 workstations, each with two 2.2GHz processors and 1 gigabit-per-second network adapters. The system also uses an IBM TotalStorage FastT500 storage system with 2.6 terabytes of capacity.