This text was published in 11 June 2008, at Debian Times. Do not edit this page. It followed through the ?Debian Times team guidelines for publishing workflow.
Debian GNU/Linux powers Max Planck Institute 32.8 TFlops supercomputer
A team of scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics have created Germany's 4th largest supercomputer by using Debian GNU/Linux.
The Observational Relativity and Cosmology Research Group is a team of scientists working at the Hannover Branch of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute) in Hannover, Germany. Their goal is the direct detection of gravitational waves, which were first predicted by Albert Einstein. They are working with the friends and colleagues within the LIGO Scientific Community and VIRGO.
The massive computing effort necessary for this research is provided by a Debian GNU / Linux cluster of 1342 nodes called ATLAS. Using 10+ TB RAM, approximately 1.3 PB storage and a special network able to transfer almost 4 days worth of DVD movies each second, the cluster achieves a measured performance of 32.8 TFlops. This performance places the ATLAS Debian GNU / Linux supercomputer at 4th place in Germany, 11th in Europe and 34th worldwide, at a cost of EUR 1.8m (~ US$ 2.8m).
The ATLAS Debian GNU / Linux cluster was designed, built and has been managed by Dr Henning Fehrmann and Dr Carsten Aulbert, who have been using Debian GNU / Linux for years.
ATLAS has smaller brother and sister systems in Potsdam, Germany: "Merlin" (1.3 Tflops) and "Morgane" (6 TFlops) -- also running Debian GNU / Linux and managed by Dr. Steffen Grunewald for many years; "the experience with them had been very, very good", according to Dr. Aulbert.
"Thomas Lange's FAI package is extremely useful for automatic deployment of Debian [GNU / Linux]. For example, without much tweaking and using only two hosts, we were able to reinstall the cluster in about 2.5 hours and were only limited by those two servers' network connection.", said Dr. Aulbert. Dr. Grunewald added, "FAI with its class model was a major breakthrough, in readability, functionality, and maintainability. There's no way back now."
Beyond FAI, there are other useful tools for massive scale installation, deployment and management of Debian GNU / Linux machines for various scenarios. "Debian features an extremely large set of packages, making it THE distro of choice for keeping us out of the hassle to package needed software ourselves", said Dr. Aulbert.
As additional benefits of using Debian GNU / Linux, he cited:
the simplicity of creating own packages
how repositories can be set-up easily (using the reprepro package)
using clean build environments (pbuilder and similar packages)
and, of course, the superb packaging infrastructure in general (dpkg, apt, aptitude, synaptic and many useful APT tools)
By using Debian GNU / Linux at its clusters, the Observational Relativity and Cosmology Research Group reduced the amount of work needed on the hardware and software infrastructure, compared to other scientific clusters running on other distributions, allowing them to focus on their objective of detecting gravitational waves.
About the ATLAS cluster
The ATLAS cluster, linpack measured 32.8 TFlops and a theoretical peak of about 50 TFlops, consists of 1342 Supermicro computer nodes (Intel Xeon 3220 quad-cores 2,4 GHz, 8 GB RAM, 500 GB Hitachi HDD, IPMI remote management) along with 31 data servers (2x Intel Xeon E5345 2,33 GHz, 16 GB RAM, Areca 1261ML, 16x750 GB Hitachi HDD) plus 4 similar head nodes with 4 x 750 GB HDD. Those are all running Debian GNU / Linux 4.0 Etch with a few modifications like custom kernel and Condor queuing system. Additional storage space is supplied by 13 Sun Fire X4500 running Solaris 10. The system was built from off-the-shelf computers from a German company, Pyramid Computer GmbH.
One of the many special hardware components they have is the network from Woven Systems which is a hierarchical fully non-blocking network. The EFX 1000 core switch features 144 10 Gb/s CX4 ports and connects currently to 32 TRX100 edge switches which feature 48 1 Gb/s ports and 4x10 Gb/s uplinks, reaching 2880 Gb/s. Also their Sun Fire X4500 are directly connected to the core switch.
According to Dr. Grunewald, the Merlin Debian GNU / Linux Beowulf 180 nodes cluster (launched in 2002) initially ran on a rpm based distribution, but in 2004 migrated to Debian GNU / Linux after the rpm distro vendor changed its licensing model. The total computing power of the 360 CPU cores has been estimated to be more than 1.3 Tflops peak; the data storage capacity is about 20 TB mirrored.
The Morgane Debian GNU / Linux Beowulf cluster, consisting of 615 compute nodes, 15 storage nodes, and some head nodes, launched in December 2006. The total computing power of the 1230 CPU cores has been estimated to be more than 6 Tflops peak, the data storage capacity is about 100 TB.
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