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IBM develops low-cost Linux supercomputer system

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IBM said on Wednesday it is providing a new class of low-cost supercomputer that uses the Linux alternative operating system, allowing researchers and developers access to computational power they previously could not afford.

The National Computational Science Alliance, comprised of 50 academic, government and research partners, said it would use the system of IBM computers as a part of its effort to create a new highly sophisticated computer network for research.

The system, called Los Lobos, is actually a "supercluster" of servers, which are powerful computers that manage networks of other computers. It will be located at the University of New Mexico.

Los Lobos will consist of 256 IBM Netfinity PC servers, which linked together will provide supercomputer-level performance at lower cost.

A source close to IBM said this was the first of six such deals with universities expected this year.

"The Linux superclusters are the new supercomputers of the 21st Century," said Frank Gilfeather, the University of New Mexico`s director of supercomputing. "We see them as replacing the traditional Cray, IBM, and Silicon Graphics supercomputers because of their cost benefit."

Researchers said it was the combination of industry-standard PC servers with the Linux operating system that would put supercomputer performance within reach for modestly funded research projects.

"Open source software, such as Linux, decreases costs dramatically because the community of users continually augments the software base," said Dan Reed, director of the Alliance. "In addition, superclusters made from off-the-shelf products are a very cost effective way to offer supercomputer performance to the user community."

The Netfinity servers are linked together using special clustering software and high speed networking hardware, acting as one to process at a speed of 375 gigaflops, or 375 billion operations per second. That speed would place Los Lobos at No. 24 on the world`s current list of the top 500 fastest supercomputers.

The effort is seen as a nod to the potential of Linux, which has grown from being a programmer`s hobby into a force in the commercial marketplace for computer operating systems.

While Linux is popular with technicians and used widely at the back-end of Web sites, it is not yet considered to have the muscle for handling industrial-strength business tasks.

IBM, which has embraced the fast-growing operating system by making many of its products run Linux, said that the work of the research community could help to beef up Linux for wider commercial uses.

"The Linux movement is benefiting greatly from the strong support of top researchers and programmers at our nation`s leading universities and laboratories," said Irving Wladawsky-Berger, vice president of technology and strategy at IBM`s Enterprise Systems Group.

"The innovation of the National Computational Science Alliance supported by the research community will lead the way for commercial Linux applications and product development," he said.

The IBM supercluster system will be delivered in mid-April, and the Alliance will begin to allocate time nationally on the system this summer, for use to make advances in areas such as medicine, physics, chemistry and genetics.

Reuters News Service

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