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Carnegie Mellon Builds New Computing Cluster for Education and Research

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is building a new computing cluster, named Narwhal, which will be used for education and research related to large-scale computer systems.

The Narwhal cluster will include 448 blade computers, 1,792 processor cores and more than 400 magnetic disks. Narwhal's blade computers were salvaged from Cerrillos, a former Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) supercomputer that was decommissioned last year. Cerrillos contained a whopping 14,400 processor cores, but even Narwhal's fraction of Cerrillos's core capabilities "is more capable than most educational computing resources," said Garth Gibson, professor of computer science and principal investigator for Narwhal, in a prepared statement.

Cerrillos was related to the Roadrunner supercomputer — the first computer to break the petaflop barrier by performing more than one million billion calculations per second. Cerrillos and Roadrunner shared a hybrid architecture that used both AMD Opteron processors and special graphics processors from IBM, called Cells, to increase overall processing speed. However, Narwhal does not use Cerrillos's Cell processors "because the academic parallel and distributed computing goals for Narwhal were better met with more blades and fewer Cell co-processors," according to the CMU.

Researchers and students at CMU will use the Narwhal cluster "to experiment with parallel computing applications and infrastructure, controlling and instrumenting all software down to the bare metal, at a scale that's an order of magnitude larger than most university clusters," according to the university.

"With Narwhal, we open a new front — assistance with large-scale computer systems software education," said Gibson in a prepared statement.

The Narwhal cluster is named after the Arctic whale known for the long tusk protruding from its head. The name was chosen in honor of the Parallel Reconfigurable Observational Environment's (PRObE) tradition of selecting names with Alaskan themes. Garth Gibson, principal investigator for Narwhal, was part of the team that established PRObE.

CMU's Parallel Data Lab will set up the Narwhal cluster this summer in the Robert Mehrabian Collaborative Innovation Center (CIC) on the CMU campus.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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