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Behind the Scenes at NASA's New Linux Site

Don Marti

Issue #130, February 2005

The two fastest computers on the planet are Linux systems. One of them is Columbia, built by SGI and located at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

With the arrival of the Fall 2004 TOP500 list, two Linux-based systems now top the rankings of the world's fastest computers: IBM's BlueGene/L, at 70.72TFlops, and SGI's Columbia at 51.87TFlops.

Columbia went from order to up and running in 120 days—in an already-full machine room. The project required custom power distribution units, rewiring, plumbing and plenty of scheduling finesse from NASA and SGI experts.

Columbia's storage is 440TB of disk, some Fibre Channel, some Serial ATA. The system already has 650 users at Ames and at cooperating universities and national labs.

The 10,240 processors in Columbia make up 20 512-processor systems with 1TB of memory each. As shown in our February 2003 issue, the interconnect is SGI's low-latency NUMAlink.

High density, at 88 Itanium 2 CPUs per rack, made a water cooling system necessary. The blue hose brings cold water into the radiator, the red hose brings warm water out and the clear hose is connected to a tray to drain any condensation.

Photos: Michael Baxter

Don Marti is Editor in Chief of Linux Journal.

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