A Supercomputer Bargain at NASA

By Keith Cowing
November 21, 2003
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A Supercomputer Bargain at NASA

Editor’s note: Last week NASA Ames Research Center put out a press release regarding a new supercomputer 512-processor SGI Altix single-system image (SSI) that NASA had developed in collaboration with Silicon Graphics (SGI).

By coincidence I had been following another rather interesting supercomputer project at Virginia Tech wherein a cluster of Mac G5 personal computers, purchased off-the-shelf, had been configured to produce the third fastest supercomputer on Earth – and at a cost of only $5.2 million.

This price was in sharp contrast to the cost of the Number 1 supercomputer in the world (located in Japan) which, according to Virginia Tech, had a cost within “a range of $350 million to $400 million with an upwards figure of $1 billion when support for the entire resource is added.”

My first thought was to check the cost of the new NASA computer. Since no cost was included in the otherwise geeky-detail laden NASA press release, I contacted the NASA ARC PAO representative, Mike Mewhinney.

After some exchanges and fact checking, Mike told me that the cost to NASA over a three year period is $9.5 million and that this includes leasing hardware, support services, and all operating software.

Not at all bad for NASA which often seems to relish the opportunity to pay too much for something. Indeed, a very encouraging sign.

It would seem that NASA is hoping on the same bandwagon as Virginia Tech and looking at how off-the shelf (or near-off-the-shelf) clustered applications can produce world-class computing capabilities at a miniscule cost when compared to ‘traditional’ supercomputing behemoths.

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