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Dell working on ARM supercomputer prototypes

Agam Shah | April 1, 2013
Not fazed by a takeover battle looming on the sidelines, members of Dell's research division are putting together the pieces for prototype ARM supercomputers that could be deployed in the future.

Chips for ARM servers are offered by Calxeda, Marvell and Texas Instruments. ARM processors right now are only 32- and 40-bit. But ARM has already announced its first 64-bit ARMv8 architecture and accompanying Cortex-A57 and Cortex-A53 processor designs based on the architecture. Advanced Micro Devices, AppliedMicro and others are expected to offer integrated ARM chips for servers.

But it could take a while for ARM to be accepted by the research community, Carroll said. Software written today is still not being targeted at ARM servers, and researchers tend to hold on to old code, Carroll said. ARM, x86 and Power processors run on different instruction sets and support different code bases.

Dell today builds servers with x86 processors. A supercomputer based on Dell's blade design was deployed last year at the Texas Advanced Supercomputing Center, which is based at the University of Texas, Austin. Called Stampede and rated the world's seventh-fastest supercomputer, the machine delivers a peak performance of 10 petaflops. The world's fastest supercomputer at the U.S. Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Titan, delivers peak performance of 20 petaflops.

The Stampede supercomputer has a total of 102,400 processor cores which include Intel's Xeon E5 CPU, Nvidia graphics processors and Intel's Xeon Phi co-processor. The 182-rack supercomputer has 270TB of RAM, 14 petabytes of storage, occupies 11,000 square feet of space, employs 75 miles of network cables and draws 3 megawatts of power.

Dell isn't primarily viewed as a supercomputing vendor, but Carroll wants to meet the needs of customers regardless of processor architecture.

"We're getting better and better," Carroll said.

 

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