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BP buys massive Itanium cluster

The petrochemical giant has purchased a large cluster of Hewlett-Packard Linux servers to help search for oil and gas deposits.

Petrochemical giant BP has purchased a large cluster of Hewlett-Packard Linux servers using Intel's Itanium 2 processors to help search for oil and gas deposits.

BP bought 259 HP rx5670 systems, each with four Itanium 2 processors. The systems collectively have more than 8,000GB of memory and can perform 4 trillion calculations per second, according to HP and Intel. The purchase price was not disclosed.

The computing cluster will be used for the computationally difficult task of seismic processing, in which computers deduce 3D models of what lies beneath the Earth's surface--petrochemicals, for example. They reconstruct these interior features by analyzing how fast sound waves from a man-made explosion travel through different materials before reaching an array of sensitive detectors.

Supercomputing and high-performance technical computing is gaining interest from server sellers. IBM expanded its effort Tuesday to include more products and services personnel. Sun Microsystems is increasing its emphasis as well.

Market researcher IDC said $4.7 billion worth of high-performance technical computing systems were sold in 2002, with HP leading the market but IBM encroaching fast.

Intel's Xeon and Pentium processors have often been used for computing clusters, collections of computers that divide a job among dozens or hundreds of lower-end computers. But the 64-bit Itanium family has been catching on with the arrival of the faster Itanium 2 model and improved software.

Longtime Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices now poses some more competition in this market. On Tuesday, AMD launched its new Opteron processor that, like Intel's Itanium processor, can handle large amounts of memory more effectively than can Xeon and Pentium models.

At the Opteron launch on Tuesday, IBM said it will sell Opteron-based computing clusters.