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Terra Soft, Sony to Build World's First Cell Cluster

In the fall of '05, Terra Soft was contacted by Sony Computer Entertainment, Inc. (SCEI) to develop and manage a supercomputing cluster built upon the IBM Cell Broadband Engine and the Linux OS.

This spring, Terra Soft was contracted by Sony and in August completed the construction of a 3000 sq-ft supercomputing facility capable of housing 2400 1U systems.

In this remodeled extension to the Loveland, Colorado headquarters, Terra Soft will construct a test cluster and a substantially larger production cluster.

Terra Soft will use the test cluster to conduct advanced software development, optimization, and testing with emphasis on Y-HPC and Y-Bio applied to the Cell Broadband Engine. The production cluster will be made available to select University and Department of Energy laboratories to further life sciences research.

The clusters will incorporate, in part, Cell-based PS3 systems. The Cell Broadband Engine provides a '1 + 8' multi-core processing environment, enabling optimized code to function at a superior level of performance over traditional single or dual core CPUs.

With all 8 cores on a single chip, the code processes do not lose performance by dropping down to the memory bus as with historic, multiple CPU configurations.

Glen Otero, Director of Life Sciences Research for Terra Soft Solutions explains, "This cluster represents a two-fold opportunity: to optimize a suite of open-source life science applications for the Cell processor; to develop a hands-on community around this world-first cluster whereby researchers and life science studies at all levels may benefit.

Once up and running with our first labs engaged, we will expand the community through invitations and referrals, supporting a growing knowledge base and library of Cell optimized code, open and available to life science researchers everywhere."

Lawrence Berkeley National Lab is working with Terra Soft to optimize a suite of life science applications. Los Alamos and Oak Ridge National Labs are also engaged, with select universities coming on-board early in 2007. Terra Soft is working to optimize the entire Y-Bio bioinformatics suite.

Thomas Swidler, Sr. Director of Research & Development at SCEI states, "This cluster is for Sony a means of demonstrating the diversity of the PS3, taking it well beyond the traditional role of a game box.

While we are not in the business of competing for the nor building cluster components, this creative use of the PS3 beta systems enables Sony to support a level of realworld research that may produce very positive, beneficial results."

Regarding Terra Soft's contribution to the project, Swidler continued, "In working with Terra Soft, we found a single source for the operating system, cluster construction tools, and bioinformatics software suite. Again, their dedication to detail and professional results has surpassed our expectations. We are very eager for the completion of this initial phase in order that the research may begin."

Both clusters will run the new Yellow Dog Linux v5.0 operating system; a beta version of Y-HPC v2.0, the world's first commercial, cross-architecture Linux cluster construction suite; the Moab cluster management suite by Cluster Resources; and Y-Bio v1.1, a suite of gene sequence analysis tools soon to be optimized for the Cell processor.

Kai Staats, CEO of Terra Soft offers, "Working to complete the cluster facility has been the highlight of my time in this industry, a truly gratifying experience. What we have accomplished this spring and summer showcases the peak of our design, coordination, and engineering effort ... from facility design and construction in July and August to the cluster build-out in November and December --our best effort to date."

The final cluster components are to arrive early November with the cluster slated to be fully operational with the close of the year.

Désiré Athow

Désiré has been musing and writing about technology during a career spanning four decades. He dabbled in website building and web hosting when DHTML and frames were en vogue and started writing about the impact of technology on society just before the start of the Y2K hysteria at the turn of the last millennium. Following an eight-year stint at where he discovered the joys of global tech-fests, Désiré now heads up TechRadar Pro. Previously he was a freelance technology journalist at Incisive Media, Breakthrough Publishing and Vnunet, and Business Magazine. He also launched and hosted the first Tech Radio Show on Radio Plus.