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Blue Gene

Published on Nov 12, 2015


This gives an overview of the BlueGene/L Supercomputer. This is a jointly funded research partnership between IBM and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory as part of the United States Department of Energy ASCI Advanced Architecture Research Program. Application performance and scaling studies have recently been initiated with partners at a number of academic and government institutions, including the San Diego Supercomputer Center and the California Institute of Technology.

This massively parallel system of 65,536 nodes is based on a new architecture that exploits system-on-a-chip technology to deliver target peak processing power of 360 teraFLOPS (trillion floating-point operations per second). The machine is scheduled to be operational in the 2004-2005 time frame, at price/performance and power consumption/performance targets unobtainable with conventional architectures.


IBM has has previously announced a multi-year initiative to build a petaflop scale machine for calculations in the area of life sciences. The BlueGene/L machine is a first step in this program, and is based on a different and more generalized architecture than IBM described in its announcement of the BlueGene program in December of 1999. In particular BlueGene/L is based on an embedded PowerPC processor supporting a large memory space, with standard compilers and message passing environment, albeit with significant additions and modifications to the standard PowerPC system.

Significant progress has been made in recent years mapping numerous compute-intensive applications, many of them grand challenges, to parallel architectures. This has been done to great success largely out of necessity, as it has become clear that currently the only way to achieve teraFLOPS-scale computing is to garner the multiplicative benefits offered by a massively parallel machine.

To scale to the next level of parallelism, in which tens of thousands of processors are utilized, the traditional approach of clustering large, fast SMPs will be increasingly limited by power consumption and footprint constraints. For example, to house supercomputers in the 2004 time frame, both the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have begun constructing buildings with approximately 10x more power and cooling capacity and 2-4x more floor space than existing facilities.

In addition, due to the growing gap between the processor cycle times and memory access times, the fastest available processors will typically deliver a continuously decreasing fraction of their peak performance, despite ever more sophisticated memory hierarchies.

The approach taken in BlueGene/L (BG/L) is substantially different. The system is built out of a very large number of nodes, each of which has a relatively modest clock rate. Those nodes present both low power consumption and low cost. The design point of BG/L utilizes IBM PowerPC embedded CMOS processors, embedded DRAM, and system-on-a-chip techniques that allow for integration of all system functions including compute processor, communications processor,

3 cache levels, and multiple high speed interconnection networks with sophisticated routing onto a single ASIC. Because of a relatively modest processor cycle time, the memory is close, in terms of cycles, to the processor. This is also advantageous for power consumption, and enables construction of denser packages in which 1024 compute nodes can be placed within a single rack. Integration of the inter-node communications network functions onto the same ASIC as the processors reduces cost, since the need for a separate, high-speed switch is eliminated.

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