Los Alamos Linux cluster to keep watch on nukes

One of the world's largest Linux clusters, a 2,816-processor system built by vendor Linux Networx, will soon be used at Los Alamos National Laboratory to run simulations of nuclear detonations. The cluster will help scientists understand how the United States' nuclear stockpile is aging.

While the eagle gets the glory, the penguin is quietly standing guard over America's nukes. The Linux penguin, that is.

At Los Alamos National Laboratory, one of the world's largest Linux clusters -- called Lightning -- will be standing guard over the United States' nuclear stockpile.

Residing on Lightning, Los Alamos' Advanced Simulation and Computing program, or ASCI, will run three-dimensional simulations of nuclear detonations. Scientists "rely on experimental data analysis to understand how [nuclear weapons] are aging," said Los Alamos spokesman Jim Danneskiold.

Los Alamos' cluster is a "2,816-processor system built out of 1,408 nodes," said Dean Hutchings, chief operating officer of Linux Networx Inc., a Bluffdale, Utah-based cluster systems provider and the Lightning project vendor. "Each node or server has two processors in it, connected together by a high-speed interconnect in order to act as one big supercomputer."

Lightning is a huge system, "probably about one and a half times the size of a tennis court," Hutchings said, noting that his company worked on a similar large system at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Los Alamos' ASCI-Linux cluster will first be deployed at Linux Networx's facility. There, the project team will build and integrate the system "so that it's running as one complete unit," Hutchings said. "Then, we'll turn around, tear it down and rebuild it at the customer's facility." Getting the system up and working out all the bugs off-site "speeds up the deployment process for [Los Alamos] with very little intrusiveness on their data center," he said.

Like many other scientific organizations, the lab has been using Linux since the mid-'90s, Danneskiold said. The proven price and performance of Linux made it the top choice for the Lightning project.

Linux Networx will provide a software tool -- ICE Box -- to facilitate management of the cluster, according to Hutchings. ICE Box is a power and heat management tool that continually manages the heat of the cluster and also allows the administrator to remotely manage the power of the cluster.

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