Dreaming big; IBM looks to host entire internet on a single modified Blue Gene supercomputer
February 8, 2008 1:44 PM
Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, is oft misquoted as stating that the world really only would need five computers. Ironically the frequently used, erroneous quotation may come to true by the very hands of the business Watson created.
IBM launched an Epic project with an almost unfathomable goal -- to develop a single supercomputer capable of running the entire internet as a web application. The project, codenamed Kittyhawk (detailed in a white paper by IBM) created quite the stir in internet technology community.
While the software details descend quickly into the realm of the cerebral, one number that jumps off the page is the estimate for the number of cores and memory for the finished proposed system -- 67.1 million cores with 32PB of memory.
The system is based on IBM's Blue Gene/P architecture, which takes millions of cores and arranges them in a hierarchal architecture. At the lowest level four 850 MHz Power PC cores run on a single chip, with built in memory controllers and interconnects. The next level up is the card, which contains 32 of these quad core chips known as "nodes." Up a level, 16 cards compose a midplane. A server rack has two midplanes, yielding a total of 1024 nodes, or 4096 processors. Each server rack has 2TB of memory to play with. A maximum of 16,384 racks can be networked to yield the finally staggering metrics. As each rack has an I/O bandwidth of 640Gb/s, a "full" 67.1m core system would sport 10.4Pb/s of bandwidth.
The design is certainly not unproven technology -- IBM's Blue Gene architectures own 4 of the top 10 spots of the list of fastest supercomputers on the planet, including the top spot, which is occupied by IBM's Blue Gene/L. IBM's Blue Gene/L architecture is the successor to its P architecture. The Kittyhawk project, initially designed with the Blue Gene/P architecture, will likely make the eventual switch to the more powerful and efficient "L" architecture.
IBM argues that there are many advantages to using large SMP (symmetric multi-processing) systems for internet hosting. Such systems beat clusters in power efficiency and space requirements. However, clusters beat SMPs in terms of pricing and availability, due to the ability to utilize generic commercial hardware for much of the system. This had led companies such as Sun Microsystems, Amazon.com, Google and Microsoft to adopt cluster hosting centers, which provide the companies with the ability to flexibly increase their capacity as demand mandates.