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HP explores new territory with Apollo supercomputer

Firm broadens server range into high-performance computing arena
Mon Jun 09 2014, 23:00
HP Apollo 8000 supercomputer

LAS VEGAS: HP has unveiled its first supercomputer, aimed at bringing high-performance computing out of science and academia and into the enterprise.

Launched at the firm's Discover event in Las Vegas, the range consists of the Apollo 6000 and 8000. The former, which can fit up to 160 servers per rack, is currently being beta tested by Intel for its processor designs. The 8000 can pack in up to 144 servers per rack, and the first machine has been installed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in the US.

For those of you with long memories, the Apollo range harks back to the 1980s workstation maker of the same name, which HP acquired in 1989 for $476m. HP then proceeded to close down its new buy over the next decade, but it did integrate a lot of Apollo technology into its HP 9000 workstations and servers. However, HP told The INQUIRER that this latest Apollo supercomputer isn't related to the original tech or firm it acquired.

Clive Freeman, UK&I chief technologist for HP's Enterprise Group, told The INQUIRER that the Apollo launch is evidence of HP's new focus on innovation at the top end outside of its normal range of servers.

"It's a new departure for HP at the very high end of our compute portfolio," he said.

"The Apollo 8000 is a supercomputer, it's a petaflops range supercomputer and it's liquid cooled."

Freeman said the cooling aspect of the Apollo 8000 was particularly impressive.

"I watched them put the water into the water-cooled machines back in the 1980s and it was a fairly hair-raising event, pouring buckets of water in," he explained.

"This is a sealed system with vacuum pressure, so if there's a leak in the water, the air goes in rather than the water going out."

Freeman also noted that the 8000 helps businesses fulfil any green objectives they might have.

"At the NREL, they take the heat, as it's a closed-loop cooling environment, and the warm water coming out the back of it, they use that to heat the building. Then in the winter, any surplus heat they use it in pipes under the pavement to melt the snow on the pavement," he said.

"This is a very eco-friendly environment. It really does give the NREL some credibility in that space."

The other machine in HP's supercomputing portfolio is the Apollo 6000, a high-performance compute grid offering thousands of compute nodes, according to Freeman.

"It's being used by Intel to do its electronic design automation work when they're designing new processor sets, mainly to run big overnight jobs to simulate these things," he added.

The super computers offer high performance, but come with an equally high price tag - although the 6000 brings high-performance computing down into the broader market. The Apollo 6000 costs around $150,000 for an 80-server module, while the 8000 model will be in the low millions, according to Freeman.

"It won't be 10 million, it'll be single digits, but you get thousands of petaflops of computing," he noted.

The Apollo 6000 and 8000 will be available from HP and channel partners from 10 June.

HP will be hoping its Apollo launch will help it knock IBM off the top supercomputing slots. According to the latest Top 500 Supercomputer Sites rankings, IBM has five of the top 10 supercomputing installations, followed by Cray with two, and Fujitsu, Dell and the National University of Defense Technology each with one. µ



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