A Linux cluster deployed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and codenamed Thunder yesterday delivered 19.94 teraflops of sustained performance, making it the most powerful computer in North America - and the second fastest on Earth.

The 4,096 Itanium 2 processor-based cluster is the largest ever Itanium 2 processor deployment, as well as the largest implementation of Quadrics' low-latency QsNet(II) interconnect technology - technologies which, in combination, allow Thunder to achieve record cluster efficiency of 86.9 percent, an important metric in measuring cluster scalability.

Thunder uses 1,024 California Digital 6440 servers, and California Digital CEO B.J. Arun was understandably proud, saying: "Thunder sets important benchmarks for massively parallel Linux computing. We're proud to have successfully delivered such a ground-breaking Linux cluster with world-record performance and efficiency." The full details can be found here [pdf].

Intel had its own point to make: "Working with California Digital and Lawrence Livermore has been a great opportunity to demonstrate the absolute performance and scalability that can be achieved with Intel's Itanium2 processor," said enterprise platforms manager Richard Dracott.

An official announcement roared: Thunder's efficiency and scalability rest on the strength of its sophisticated interconnect technology, Quadrics' QsNet(II) offering. QsNet(II) (Elan4) provides the underlying high bandwidth and low latency MPI communications required by today's demanding scalable applications. With support for broadcast in hardware and scalable collective operations, QsNet(II) scales clusters efficiently to over 4,000 nodes.

Despite the technical sophistication of Thunder and the incorporation of new technologies, California Digital deployed Thunder in five months, speeding delivery of computing solutions to support Lawrence Livermore's national security and science programs in fields such as materials science, structural mechanics, electromagnetics, atmospheric science, seismology, biology, and inertial confinement fusion.

"Thunder represents the next generation of Linux cluster for scientific simulation," remarked Mark Seager, Livermore's assistant department head for advanced technology. "Our applications are seeing a 50 percent to 400 percent speed up over our Intel Xeon based clusters."

California Digital has released a number of the innovative tools that manage the cluster effectively under GPL/ open source licenses as part of its FreeIPMI project for server management and configuration.