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Suns Offerings in High Performance Computing

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Compared to Intel or AMD, Sun Microsystems has traditionally focused more on high-end, high-powered servers and supercomputers than on desktop home computers. It should come as no surprise, then, that Sun produces some of the most advanced High-performance computing (HPC) systems available. In fact, they offer not just one, but several different types of HPC solutions for different computing needs.

High performance computing uses either supercomputers or computer clusters to solve advanced problems requiring millions of calculations. Although it is most commonly associated with scientific research, recently high performance computing has been increasingly applied to business uses such as data warehousing, transaction processing and line-of-business (LOB) applications.

Sun's most powerful HPC system is currently the Sun Constellation System, which was introduced in 2007. In consists of several different hardware and software components. At its heart lies the Sun Fire X4500 data server, which combines server and storage functions. It contains two dual-core processors and an incredible forty-eight 1000 GB SATA drives, for a total of 48 terabytes of storage. It also uses the Sun StorageTek 5800 System for its data archive for clients to store large amounts of digital information, such as medical information, digitized historical records, or rich media. It uses a customer-definable metadata index to tag, search, and retrieve information. At the bottom hardware level lies one or more Sun Blade systems, which are essentially just interface terminals for users to interact with the system.

The Constellation System runs on either OpenSolaris or Linux. It also makes use of the Sun Grid Engine, a workload scheduler for computer clusters and server farms. On the physical level, it manages and schedules the allocation of hardware resources such as processors, memory, and hard disk space. On the software level, it coordinates the scheduling, dispatching, and managing of large numbers of standalone, parallel, or interactive user jobs. The Sun Grid is also offered as a service purchasable separately from the Sun Constellation System.

Sun offers another high performance computing system, the Sun Modular Datacenter. Although perhaps not as powerful as the Sun Constellation System, is much more flexible. The Modular Datacenter (MD) is essentially a portable server farm. It is built into a standard 20-foot shipping container, and therefore can be transported to any location in the world through existing transportation networks. It is ideal for locations that lack the infrastructure to support a server farm or in situations where a data center is needed in a location only temporarily, and the customer wants to avoid having to acquire or construct a building to house one. Upon arrival, a 280-server data center can be quickly deployed and made operational for 1/100th of the cost of constructing a traditional data center building. The only drawback is that an external chiller is required to operate the Modular Datacenter.

Considering that many of Sun's products are already in use in several of the top 500 supercomputer systems (including the fourth fastest supercomputer computer in the world), it's fairly obvious that HPC solutions is one of the things that Sun does best. While other companies can only offer one or two such solutions (if they have any at all), Sun Microsystems has several systems for customers to choose from.

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