Ultrafast Ethernet tipped for Beowulf brainteasers

Very large and complex problems could soon be solved by linking up supercomputers using ultrafast Ethernet networks.

Users are hopeful that 10G bps (bits per second) Ethernet links could connect Beowulf-type architectures; supercomputers constructed from hundreds or thousands of PC processors working in parallel.

Ethernet bandwidth to a tested and approved standard is steadily mounting, to the point where 10G bps in the core of a network-over fibre-is in productive use, says Gordon Vick, Sydney-based regional director Asia Pacific for network equipment specialist Foundry Networks.

Foundry is to make approaches to local Beowulf developers such as Massey University, says Vick.

Massey’s director of supercomputing, Chris Messon, says he has not yet spoken with Foundry representatives but says the project has reached the stage where such connections with other organizations running similar resources may well be looked at.

Even Massey’s Helix Beowulf system, with a processing power of 230 Gflops, cannot handle some very large problems and the logical strategy is to cross-link with other such systems, Messon says. Here 10G bps Ethernet technology could be relevant; but any communication channel has to have low latency (delay of the signal) derived from having “short”-uncomplicated-protocol stacks. Developers of all fast protocols, including Ethernet, are now working on low latency, he says. Such 10G bps Ethernet technology is in use in the London and Amsterdam Internet exchanges, Vick says.

“We’re also seeing an increase in the use of gigabit Ethernet over copper,” he says. It has been slow to take off until now because servers didn’t have the capacity to drive it.

At Weta Digital, grunty communication is not just for Orcs and Trolls. The power of Foundry devices is used to assist the creation of special effects for films like the “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy.

The communications infrastructure at Weta, involving Foundry’s BigIron layer 3 switches and FastIron layer 2/3 switches running 10/100 and gigabit Ethernet, was upgraded for the making of the second film, The Two Towers, with its particularly complex effects such as those for the battle of Helm’s Deep.