Unisys and Cornell Partner for High-Performance Computing

Pair aims to challenge the TCO of entrenched RISC-Unix systems.

Unisys Corp. on Monday disclosed plans to collaborate with Cornell University’s Cornell Theory Center (CTC) to test high-performance computing solutions based on its ES7000 servers.

CTC executive director Linda Callahan indicates that CTC will deploy two ES7000 systems, a 32-way Xeon MP-based server and a 16-way Itanium 2-based box. CTC will test its two ES7000 systems with a range of applications that are typically hosted on high-end Unix systems from the likes of IBM Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc, Callahan notes.

"The ES7000 is going to be competing with those [Unix operating systems]," she says. "We didn’t consider them because we have a focus on industry standard computing, [and] they’re much more expensive than inexpensive to manage. The ES7000 was just a natural choice."

Although Unisys’ ES7000 systems are capable of running at least two flavors of Unix—Caldera’s UnixWare 7 and OpenUnix 8—CTC will host Windows 2000 Datacenter Server Edition on both its Xeon MP- and Itanium 2-based ES7000 systems. Callahan says that CTC selected Windows 2000 Datacenter Server Edition over Unix or Linux because it’s pursuing a TCO-driven approach to high-performance computing. In this regard, Windows’ ubiquity could make it cheaper to manage and program for, she argues.

"The whole idea is to simplify high performance computing, so you have Windows operating systems all across the desktops, so why not standardize from the lowest end to the highest end, the idea being [that] that would lead to simplified administration, reduced TCO, and increased performance," she says.

Callahan suggests that Windows 2000 Datacenter Server Edition has "a lot of capabilities that will help us to develop applications that hide the complexity of high-performance computing."

Challenging RISC-Unix

Tom Manter, a director who heads Unisys’ database marketing program, says that his company’s work with CTC comprises the opening salvo in an initiative to challenge the RISC-Unix servers that have traditionally dominated the high-performance computing space.

"The competition is the Unix-RISC, and the types of problems that they have traditionally solved," he acknowledges. "If you go out and compare the ES7000 not to a collection of small severs, but … to what IBM has with its RS6000 SP clusters, or HP has with Superdome, or Sun has with SunFire, that’s essentially what we have."

To that end, continues Unisys’ director of business development Joe Zeccardi, CTC and Unisys will collaborate to develop applications that are designed to support high-performance computing on the ES7000. The goal, Zeccardi continues, is to demonstrate that Windows running on top of Intel-based platforms is a cost-effective alternative for high-performance computing. "We expect to prove that Windows and Intel is a much more cost-effective combination [than RISC-Unix]."

Speed in the Enterprise

In enterprise environments, CTC’s Callahan suggests that the ES7000 can be exploited as a high-performance platform for a variety of applications, including computational finance—crunching long-term derivatives for financial institutions, for example—along with simulation or modeling for the bio-informatics, petroleum and aerospace industries.

"One of the first applications that we’ll be testing on it is [an engineering application to compute] fractured mechanics, which applies to the broad spectrum of things in [the] aerospace [industry]," Callahan says.

Manter notes that his company is applying a "scale-up and scale-out" approach to high-performance computing. Unisys’ work with CTC on the latter’s new ES7000 systems will comprise the scale-up portion of its high-performance computing strategy, he confirms, but his company will also concentrate on "validating the clustering of large systems" as part of its scale-out strategy.

Unisys’ focus on high-performance computing is an entirely new direction for the company. In the past, confirms Richard Fichera, a vice president and research fellow with consultancy Giga Information Group, the company has been a virtual non-player in the scientific computing space.

"The Unisys reach has been concentrated most heavily in commercial applications," he acknowledges, noting that Unisys’ ES7000 systems have seen their most significant up-tick in support of "large database applications, heavy back-end transaction environments and server consolidation" efforts.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.