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IBM supercomputer top-ranked blade machine

Barcelona's MareNostrum isn't the fastest supercomputer on Earth, but 20 teraflops with regular blade servers is nothing to sneer at.

IBM announced performance results Friday for a new Spanish supercomputer that won't top the company's Blue Gene/L machine but that does use more mainstream technology.

As expected, the machine, called MareNostrum and built for the Spanish Ministry of Science and Education, can sustain a pace of 20.5 trillion calculations per second, or 20.5 teraflops. That's considerably less than the 70.7 teraflops posted by IBM's Blue Gene/L, but MareNostrum uses conventional blade servers instead of relying on customized and somewhat exotic technology.

Blade servers are thin machines that slide into a chassis that provides shared resources such as power and network switches. MareNostrum uses IBM's JS20 blades based on its PowerPC 970 processor and is the fastest blade-based supercomputer so far announced.

The 3,564-processor machine uses Linux and 1,772 blade servers with a high-speed network from Myricom. It was built at the University of Barcelona but has been temporarily moved to Madrid and will permanently reside at the Polytechnic University of Barcelona.

The system will be used for a wide range of scientific and industrial research, IBM said.

The computer will be a top contender in a list of the 500 fastest supercomputers compiled twice annually and due to be updated Nov. 8. So far, MareNostrum lags only Blue Gene/L, built for Lawrence Livermore National Labotory; Silicon Graphics' Columbia, built for NASA and clocked at 51.9 teraflops; and the earlier champion, NEC's Earth Simulator, clocked at 35.9 teraflops.

MareNostrum will get faster, though. It's scheduled to receive another 500 dual-processor JS20 blade servers by the end of the year, IBM said.

Mare Nostrum is the Latin name for the Mediterranean Sea, on which Barcelona is a port.