The Laboratory for Computer Science and the Laboratory for Nuclear Science have announced that Sun Microsystems Inc. has donated nine Ultra Enterprise 5000 symmetric multiprocessor (SMP) servers and related equipment valued at approximately $2.6 million for use in MIT's groundbreaking Xolas high-performance computing (HPC) project. It is one of the largest university gifts in Sun's history.
The goal of the Xolas project is to encourage the interplay between the next-generation high-performance parallel computers and their use for research applications. Sun's SMP servers are typically used in engineering environments and comprise the backbones of enterprise computing. Xolas will cluster the nine general-purpose SMP servers to form a multipurpose, HPC system to be used for very large-scale computations in physical sciences.
The initial installation of the Sun Microsystems computer equipment will make Xolas, at 24 Gflops, one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world.
A Sun Microsystems spokesperson said the company selected MIT for the gift because of its confidence in the experience and talent that MIT has to guide this effort to create a new approach to HPC. The MIT researchers will use Sun's technology not only to create the next-generation HPC, but also to introduce a commercially viable version based on SMPs.
Xolas will be the first system of its kind in a research environment. Its teaming of research in scientific applications and computer architecture is one of its key strengths.
"With this generous donation by Sun, researchers working on large scientific applications are benefiting from and influencing our next-generation technology in high-performance networks and parallel-programming software," said Arvind of LCS, the Charles W. and Jennifer C. Johnson Professor of Computer Science and Engineering.
"Xolas will promote fundamental advances in physical science, ranging from understanding the structure of the smallest constituents of matter to exploring the origin of the large-scale structure of the universe itself," said John Negele of LNS, the William A. Coolidge Professor of Physics and director of the Center for Theoretical Physics.
Applications of Xolas by the MIT scientists include establishing fundamental understanding of the properties, behavior, and aging of materials; determining the long-term behavior of the oceans and its impact on the Earth's climate, and calculating from first principles the sub-atomic building blocks of the universe.
LCS researchers are developing associated technologies to support the Xolas system, including high-speed networks (Arctic), a language for high-performance computing (Cilk) and systems management software.
"We're extremely pleased to provide MIT the foundation of high-performance network computer servers and software required for this unique collaborative project," said Greg Papadopoulos, chief technology officer at Sun. "For the first time, we'll see real applications requiring teraflops-range performance being executed on a cluster of SMP servers from Sun. This demonstrates the industrial-strength power of Sun's SPARC Solaris platform."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 20, 1996.