[Beowulf] dollars-per-teraflop : any lists like the Top500?

Nathan Moore ntmoore at gmail.com
Thu Jul 1 06:25:37 PDT 2010

I spent a summer working at IBM (porting applications) when LLNL's
Blue Gene system was being installed/finalized.  After spending 10
years in college/grad school with no real outside experience, it was
an interesting time.  A few observations might be relevant to the

(1) to a certain extent, intellectual/scientific prestige was very
important to the culture of the place.  Promotions were/are based in
part on how many patents you generate (not dissimilar to a
publications count), but at least superficially, patents don't seem like
a major revenue stream.  Another data point, the company has a few
internal research journals,
http://domino.research.ibm.com/tchjr/journalindex.nsf/Home?OpenForm .

(2) about once a week, my supervisor (a very skilled applications
programmer) would ask, "So, have you figured out how to sell a million
Blue Gene's yet?".  Once the design was finalized/produced, the clear
goal was to sell lots of them. (Fastest/best/national lab etc only
really matter for a short time - people have to be paid...).

(3) The local view seemed to be that the interconnect fabric (really
fast and high-bandwith, ideal for finite-element calculations, and
actually somewhat difficult to implement (well) in Molecular Dynamics) in the
BGL was included because of LLNL's application needs, and the machine
was accordingly hard to sell to "regular customers."  (Something akin
to selling a fleet of porsche's to a Taxi Company).

(3.5) a little more.  0.8GHz cpus, minimum allocation is 512/1024
CPU's at a time.  Not really an architecture that the guys at Citibank
are used to writing for...  As I recall, this was a result of the
design requirements from LLNL.  Its an amazing system to look at
though - its just one big board with a bunch of chips (CPU+memory)
plugged in.  The system density and low power consumption was the most
impressive thing to me.

(4)  From my experience, it seems like one of the roots of IBM's
success was taking a computer that you have to replace every two years
(or can build from parts on NewEgg) and turning it into an industrial
appliance (like a hobart mixer or a drill-press) that you service
regularly and can get 10 or more years
of life out of. This seemed like the essence of the "i-Series, and
earlier "System-360" machines.

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