Virginia Polytechnic and State University made headlines late last year as they raced to build a supercomputer based on Apple’s G5 desktop processor. Now, just months after the 1,100-node Terascale Computing Facility was completed, Virginia Tech has made the decision to move the supercomputer to Apple’s 1U rackmount server, the Xserve G5.
Introduced at Macworld Expo earlier this month, the high-end Xserve G5 features dual 2.0GHz G5 processors, a new system controller with up to 8GB of PC3200 error correcting code (ECC) memory, up to 750GB of storage, dual onboard GigaBit Ethernet, optional internal hardware RAID, dual PCI-X slots that support 133MHz PCI-X cards with over 1GBps of throughput, and FireWire 800 and USB 2.0 ports.
But, more importantly for clustering environments like the one at Virginia Tech, customers can get the power of the G5 in a 1U form factor — a fraction of the size of the Power Mac G5 desktop systems that were installed at Virginia Tech.
The processor being used in the Xserve G5 is very similar to the one used in the Power Mac G5 desktop machines. In fact, in speed and computational comparisons, customers will see virtually no difference at all between the chips, but the Xserve uses an updated G5 chip for other reasons.
“The processor we’re using in the Xserve G5 is based on an updated version of the G5 processor found in the desktop machines,” Doug Brooks, Xserve Product Manager, told MacCentral. “The Xserve G5 processor uses 90 nanometer technology, which is one of the features that allowed us to get a lower power processor and get them in a 1U form factor.”
When Apple launched the Power Mac G5 in 2003, the company not only introduced a new architecture for the desktop systems, but they also unveiled a new design. The design of the new Power Mac, with its grilled front and back panels, included nine fans to keep airflow going to the processors. The work done on the Power Mac was also utilized when building the new Xserve.
“We leveraged the same technology as the desktop machines,” said Brooks. “The updated processor had a lower thermal spec, so that helped, but we also have eight independently managed fans in the system.”
Apple’s director of Server Software, Tom Goguen said that Apple feels the Xserve G5 is still targeted to its core customer group of creative professionals and education, but they have been able to expand their reach with clustering applications.
“Clusters are definitely a growth opportunity for us,” said Brooks.
Virginia Tech was the first to use Apple’s Power Mac G5 in a large clustering environment and they will be the first to use the Xserve G5, but they won’t be the last.
“We’ve met with many customers in the U.S. and around the world interested in these types of applications for their servers,” said Brooks. “We are very encouraged by it.”