Tech Industry

It's Linux for IBM supercomputer project

Linux gets the nod for Big Blue's upcoming "Blue Gene" supercomputers--a major endorsement for the operating system and the open-source computing model it represents.

Linux will be the main operating system for IBM's upcoming family of "Blue Gene" supercomputers--a major endorsement for the operating system and the open-source computing model it represents.

IBM's $100 million Blue Gene program is directed at creating, by late 2005 or early 2006, a new family of supercomputers that will be able to perform a quadrillion calculations per second (one petaflop).

Blue Gene/L, the first member of the family, will contain 65,000 processors and 16 trillion bytes of memory. Due in 2004 or 2005, the system will be able to perform 200 trillion calculations per second. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory will use the system for performing nuclear weapons simulations.

The decision to adopt Linux came, in part, as a result of the growing size and strength of the open-source community. Thousands of developers around the world are participating in the evolution of Linux. Creating a new OS inside of IBM would require a massive engineering effort.

"We had two choices of operating systems for the Blue Gene family, either use a special-purpose system or Linux," Bill Pulleyblank, director of Exploratory Server Systems at IBM Research, said in a statement. "We chose Linux because it's open and because we believed it could be extended to run a computer the size of Blue Gene. We saw considerable advantage in using an operating system supported by the open-source community, so that we can get their input and feedback."

Linux already has a stronghold in supercomputers. IBM expects the Unix offshoot to be more popular than its own version of Unix, called AIX, when it comes to linking Big Blue's blade servers together to create what amounts to a single high-performance machine.

Linux has become a key operating system for IBM's server division. Historically, IBM promoted different operating systems--such as zOS for mainframes and AIX for midrange Unix servers--for the different members of its server and mainframe family.

While IBM still offers a specific operating system for each of its four server families, it also supports a version of Linux for each. This makes it easier for application developers to adapt applications for IBM's entire server line.

It's easier, for example, to bring a Linux-based application from IBM's pSeries line of RISC chip-based servers to the xSeries line of Intel-based servers than it is to port an AIX-based application for pSeries to the xSeries line.

Tailoring Linux to run on these upcoming machines will require substantial research, according to IBM. The company has, for instance, created a technique where only select processors can access the full hardware resources of the machines. IBM is also looking at ways to reduce interference between different tasks.

The IBM research team is currently running a large Linux cluster to simulate Blue Gene.'s Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.