Army buys Apple supercomputer

The Army Research and Development Command will use a giant cluster of Apple Computer Inc.'s G5 servers to build one of the fastest supercomputers in the world to research the aerodynamics of hypersonic flight.

The MACH 5 (Multiple Advanced Computers for Hypersonic research) supercomputer, announced earlier this week, will use 1,566 of the 64-bit dual-processor servers and is expected to top 25 teraflops per second when it comes online later this year. The fastest supercomputer in the world now is Japan's Earth Simulator with a maximum performance of just less than 36 teraflops.

MACH 5 will cost $5.8 million to construct, a fraction of the price purpose-built supercomputers bring. The Earth Simulator cost around $350 million.

Colsa Corp., which is under contract to the Army to support its hypersonic flight research, chose Apple for the project after a competition among half a dozen companies based on such things as power requirements, cooling needs and floor space requirements, as well as performance.

Apple's servers were also chosen last year by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University to be the core of its new 10 teraflops supercomputer.

Clusters have quickly become the preferred way to build supercomputers. Of the world's 500 fastest supercomputers, fewer than 300 are cluster systems, according to an annual ranking released this week at the International Supercomputer Conference in Heidelberg, Germany. As recently as 1998 only a handful were on the list.

The second fastest supercomputer is an Intel Corp. Itanium2-based cluster at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

IBM is the clear leader on the vendor list, claiming more than 50 percent of the global installed supercomputer performance, with Hewlett-Packard Development Co. second with 18.6 percent. No other manufacturer managed to capture more than 6 percent.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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