IBM has developed technology to speed up the way large computer networks access and share information, with implications for solving problems such as issuing tsunami warnings and improving medical research.
Under a project code-named “Fastball,” IBM’s ASC Purple supercomputer—the third most powerful in the world—has been able to achieve 102GBps of sustained read-and-write performance to a single file. That’s the equivalent of downloading 25,000 songs in a second over the Internet, according to the company.
IBM’s General Parallel File System software was used to manage the transfer of data between thousands of processors and disk storage devices. IBM said it had to enhance the software in several areas to handle such fast data rates. For example, it added new capabilities to orchestrate the flow of data between all of the hardware components in the system.
“If they all go real fast at the same time, you get a traffic jam and performance goes down,” says Chris Maher, director of high-performance computing development for IBM’s Systems and Technology Group.
ASC Purple is housed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. IBM supplied the computer to the U.S. Department of Energy and the lab for use in nuclear weapons research. In the Fastball demonstration, 1,000 clients requested a file at the same time. Through virtualization, the software then spread that file across hundreds of disk drives.
Maher says this kind of computing could be used for applications such as a tsunami warning device that would scrutinize huge amounts of information from the ocean and analyze it quickly, or for homeland security, to scan images of people and match them against large databases. Other applications could include medical research and online gaming.