This is not only a powerful but also cost-efficient super computer built from standard components, which anyone can buy in a computer store. The scalable configuration currently includes 502 processors, 251 GBytes main memory and more than 2000 GBytes disk space enabling it to work at a speed of up to 266 billion Floating Point Operations per second (Gflops). With this enormous computational power a new dimension in research can be explored at the ETH.
The use of computer aided simulation methods is becoming more and more significant in research. The Beowolf cluster called "Asgard", initiated by Professor Matthias Troyer at the Institute for Theoretical Physics, provides the users in the areas of physics, applied mathematics and the Institute for Polymer with more than a tenfold increase in computational capacity.
The first stage of the Beowolf cluster, built by the Dallmann Brothers and their company DALCO during December 1999, consists of 194 dual Intel server boards each with two PentiumIII processors and 1024 MByte main memory. The high-performance PCs were linked to a multilevel high-speed Ethernet. The use of the open source operating system Linux, installed by Anas Nashif, a cluster specialist of the SUSE Linux AG, makes this PC cluster a powerful supercomputer. Linux is an enormously stable Unix operating system and provides an advanced multi-tasking and multi-user environment. Standard components provide a computational power similar to conventional supercomputers but at a much lower price. For many applications within physics and other areas, which do not require ultra high-speed and expensive network connectivity of typical parallel supercomputers, this architecture is an ideal and cost-efficient solution. Motivated by positive experiences and the easy implementation, the cluster was scaled up to 251 nodes using 502 processors during June 2000. With the largest Beowulf cluster in Europe, the ETH and DALCO AG are pioneers of Beowulf architecture in Europe.
From the first day of installation the Bewolf Cluster "Asgard" was used successfully by the ETH researchers. In particle physics the cluster also makes detailed evaluation of the results of the AMS experiments from space shuttle flight STS91 in June 1998 possible among other things and the optimization of the experiment for installation on the International Space Station. In theoretical physics the cluster allows simulation of phase transitions in quantum systems with an accuracy which has never been accomplished before. At the seminar for applied mathematics, new methods for simulation of turbulent streams and for calculation of transformers will be developed in co-operation with industrial partners. The cluster is also available to researchers from other areas. Simulation methods for city and traffic planning are being developed at the Institute for Scientific Assessment of Computer Sciences. In addition to research applications, the cluster is already used to train students in the programming of parallel supercomputers.
DALCO AG is an innovative young enterprise and is one of the top addresses in Europe when it comes to the subject of building supercomputers on the basis of Linux clusters. Other key business fields include Internet technologies, especially project planning, delivery, implementation and operation of financial trading systems as well as IT consulting. DALCO is financially independent.
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