CERN demonstrates first 64/32-bit grid

Geneva - The CERN Openlab demonstrated for the first time the integration of 64-bit Itanium 2 servers in its Large Hadron Collider computing grid project (LHC). So far just a proof of concept, the technology is believed to be the foundation for the most powerful distributed scientific computing infrastructure over the next 15 years.

The integration of Intel's 64-bit computers took place in CERN's Openlab in Geneva, Switzerland and was sponsored by Hewlett-Packard, which provided the 40-unit server cluster, Intel, Entrasys Networks, IBM, and Oracle. To this point, the LHC consisted of 32-bit computer's, mainly desktop PCs, according to CERN spokesperson François Grey.

The move to 64-bit was not motivated by performance advantages, but rather the look into future architectures. "When the grid launches in 2007, we expect it to be online for ten to 15 years," Grey said. "We believe that 64-bit computers are the future type of commodity computing, this is why it is important that we enable our grid and software for this platform." Since Intel is a major sponsor of the project, the platform of choice is the Itanium 2, but other architectures are "imaginable", according to Grey: "We cannot tell other computing centers which hardware to use."

At its launch, the LHC is expected to include about 50,000 computer systems which provide scientific computing centers primarily in Europe, North America and Asia with a "reliable" data processing infrastructure. Currently more than 60 institutions are involved in the project, which expect to process more than 15 PByte of data per year.

Grey said, that LHC will add a new dimension to grid computing, far more powerful than for example SETI@Home, which is the largest distributed computing effort so far. "You have to put this in perspective," Grey said. "Yes, SETI@Home has millions of computers involved. But they are only available a limited time. With LHC, researchers worldwide can allocate the computing power when they need it."

Industry sources said that the LHC might become the ultimate supercomputer, but Grey thinks that such a comparison might be difficult. "Grids and supercomputers do well at different tasks. We are good at splitting up large projects into little tasks, supercomputers are better on large processing projects."

Still in development, the LHC already breaks records. It includes a 28 teraByte high-end storage system and advanced storage management software, supplied by IBM, which maintained storage-to-tape rates of over 1 GByte/s, CERN said. Also, some of the HP server nodes with Intel Itanium 2 dual processors contributed to the Internet-2 land speed record that was set last October by CERN when 1 TByte of data was transferred to partner Caltech in 30 minutes.