Monday, December 12, 2011
The World’s First Flash Supercomputer
Wired reports: [edited]
Supercomputers aren’t what they used to be. The Chinese are building a supercomputer with their own microprocessors, shunning American chip giants Intel and AMD. The Spanish are building one with cellphone chips. And this week, the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) officially plugged in the first supercomputer that uses flash storage rather than good old-fashioned spinning disks.
Naturally, they call it Gordon.
Gordon uses 300 terabytes of flash, spanning 1,024 high-performance Intel 710 series drives, and the system includes new software designed to aggregate resources from multiple physical server nodes into “super-nodes,” so users have immediate access to data, rather than waiting for the system to access particular drives. Allan Snavely, the SDSC’s associate director, sees this as the world’s largest thumb drive.
According to Snavely, Gordon can run massive databases up to 10 times faster than traditional memory, and it now ranks 48th on the official Top500 list of the fastest supercomputer in the world. The project is part of a larger trend in the supercomputer game, where systems are moving away from traditional components, toward new types of hardware that can improve speed, cost, efficiency, and, in the case of the Chinese, independence from the West.
Bob Sinkovits, applications lead for the Gordon project at SDSC, says that using flash memory is just a better idea. “Flash memory has a number of advantages over traditional hard drives, including higher bandwidths or the rate at which large blocks of data can be read or written, lower power consumption, and greater mechanical stability owing to the lack of moving parts. For data-intensive applications, though, the biggest advantage is much lower latency, or the delay between a request for data and the delivery of the first byte.”