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University of Liverpool plugs into Dell

The school will use a group, or cluster, of Dell servers to tackle research such as simulating the collision of particles to investigate the origins of the universe.

The University of Liverpool will use a group, or cluster, of Dell Computer servers to tackle its research.

The university's physics department will use the high-performance computing cluster, consisting of 940 Dell PowerEdge servers loaded with Red Hat's Linux operating system, for research in physics.

The cluster will assist researchers in studies such as simulating the collision of particles to investigate the origins of the universe. The university also plans to connect the cluster to computing grids to help researchers map the spread of diseases, Dell said in a statement.

Clustering links large numbers of standard computers, switches and storage systems to harness their collective computing power. High-performance computing clusters are becoming more popular at companies and institutions like the University of Liverpool, because they have the ability to deliver large amounts of computing power for a relatively low price.

While clusters work in a manner similar to supercomputers--spreading computing jobs out over a number of nodes or subsystems--they can do so at a lower price, because they are constructed from standard PCs that use components such as Intel or Advanced Micro Devices processors.

Supercomputers are based on custom processors and other subsystems that are costly to develop and have a smaller customer base. While clusters are less expensive, supercomputers are considered to be superior for some jobs, such as weather forecasts, for which the results of one calculation will affect the outcome of others.

Dell is focusing on servers in its bid to gain market share and nearly double its revenue over the next few years. The company is recommending computing clusters for many of its clients because of clusters' performance and relatively easy assembly. The company dedicates some custom research and development toward tuning cluster performance.

According to the University of Liverpool, the price of the Dell cluster fell within its relatively tight budget, and the system met other criteria such as fitting into a small space.

Dell has built clusters for a number of other companies and institutions. One of its largest publicly announced clusters is at the State University of New York in Buffalo. That cluster includes more than 2,000 Dell PowerEdge servers that run Red Hat's Linux.

The University of Liverpool cluster will be up and running in July. It will initially be used with the university's original 300 PCs and servers. The price that the school paid for the cluster was not disclosed.