IBM Opteron server gets down to work

IBM officially introduces its eServer 325, based on the AMD Opteron chip, and unveils a project in which the machine will aid in biology and materials science research.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
3 min read
IBM's newest eServer, an Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron machine, will debut as part of a new computing cluster that will rank among the top ten high-performing computers in the world.

Big Blue, which officially launched its Opteron-based eServer 325 on Wednesday, said it would deliver 1,058 copies of the rack-mounted machine to Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology for use in a computing cluster. The cluster will aid in research on subjects such as biology and materials sciences.

Each of the 1,058 eServer 325 systems will be fitted with two AMD Opteron model 246 processors. The forthcoming Opteron 246 is a 2GHz version of the chip, designed for single- and dual-processor workstations and servers. The Opteron chip came out in April 2003.

The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology will combine the 1,058 IBM Opteron servers with about 520 Intel-built Itanium 2 boxes to create a Linux computing cluster that will be capable of more than 11 teraflops or 11 trillion calculations per second, according to IBM.

That level of performance should put the cluster near the beginning of the "Top500 List", a ranking of the 500 highest-performing computers in the world, maintained by researchers at Germany's University of Mannheim and the University of Tennessee. Though faster computers are always being built, the cluster would come in third if were up and running today, IBM said.

Supercomputers and computing clusters, which are very similar in purpose, construction and performance, are ranked together on the list. Clusters, which are increasing in popularity, are typically built from off the shelf components; supercomputers use custom parts.

Though it is a hybrid of both AMD and Intel chips, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology cluster represents a vote of confidence for the Opteron. The chip has won several new customers.

China's Dawning Information Industry plans to build a 2000-processor, 10-teraflop Opteron supercomputer. Also, Cray Computer will use 10,000 Opterons in a supercomputer dubbed Red Storm, for the U.S. government's Sandia National Laboratories. The computer is expected to yield 40 teraflops when it is completed next year, Cray said.

Though Opteron has won large clients for supercomputers and clusters, IBM is the first big-name server vendor to build an Opteron server. The company has said that it chose to use Opteron because certain customers wanted access to the chip. AMD touts the Opteron's flexibility, because the technology behind the chip allows it to run both 64-bit and 32-bit software, the company said.

Though IBM has been discussing the eServer 325 since April, it unveiled the name and price for the first time on Wednesday. Customers can now place orders for the machine. Its price starts at $2,919, IBM said.

"For those segments that have already embraced AMD, the enthusiasm for Opteron is very, very high," Dave Turek, leader of IBM's new "Deep Computing" team, said in a recent interview.

IBM expects the machine to start shipping later this quarter and become available in volume starting in October.

In conjunction with server launch, IBM said its DB2 database will run with its Opteron processor-based server. The DB2 Integrated Clustering Environment, which can run as many as 1,000 processors in a cluster of interconnected servers, uses the SuSE or Red Hat versions of Linux.