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Itanium gets supercomputing software

Researchers build full Itanium support into software that can be used to assemble supercomputers out of clusters of Linux computers.

Researchers at the National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure have built full Itanium support into software that can be used to assemble supercomputers out of clusters of Linux computers.

Version 2.3.2 of the NPACI Rocks software, code-named Annapurna, is the first version to support Itanium, Intel's high-end processor, NPACI said in a statement Thursday. The software makes it easier to install the Linux operating system on numerous computers despite differences between each machine.

There already was an Itanium version of the Rocks software, but it didn't include all the software components of the version for computers using Intel's Pentium and Xeon or Advanced Micro Devices' Athlon chips. The move will make it easier for Rocks users to add Itanium systems into clusters that use the other chips, according to Philip Papadopoulos, program director for the San Diego Supercomputing Center's (SDSC) grid and cluster computing group.

Because Itanium understands a completely different set of instructions from lower-end Intel processors, software must be rebuilt for the newer chips. That barrier has hindered adoption of Itanium in broad business markets, but it's been less of a problem in the supercomputing niche, where customers often control their own software instead of relying on products such as Oracle's database or Computer Associates' management software.

Indeed, Gartner analyst John Enck said in a March 26 report that Itanium systems are fine for supercomputing clusters and will expand this year to some mainstream markets.

"Gartner believes (the Itanium processor family) is safe for high-performance computer clusters immediately and will be ready for mainstream database use on all operating systems by year-end 2003," Enck said. "Other application usage models will quickly follow."

The NPACI Rocks software is being used at a host of academic and government sites, including Northwestern University, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Stanford University and the University of Macedonia.

Rocks is an open-source program that's developed by the NPACI at the SDSC by the University of California at Berkeley, Singapore Computing systems and individual programmers. It's based on Red Hat Linux version 7.3. The program includes cluster software for tasks such as sending messages from one computer to another, monitoring each system's performance and scheduling jobs across the cluster.