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Supercomputing Hardware

Saudi Arabia Begins To Realize Supercomputer Ambitions 191

Posted by timothy
from the ooh-how-sheik dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Saudi Arabia is building a supercomputer that could rank among the 10 most powerful systems in the world. And the country isn't stopping there. It has plans to turn this marquee system for the Middle East into a petascale system in two years, and, beyond that, an exascale system."
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Saudi Arabia Begins To Realize Supercomputer Ambitions

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  • What does it run? (Score:4, Informative)

    by SL Baur (19540) <steve@xemacs.org> on Friday September 26, 2008 @02:05AM (#25162317) Homepage Journal

    TFA does not name the O/S it runs, though a linked article from TFA says the Iranian's supercomputer runs Linux.

    Inquiring minds want to know, I think.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by BadAnalogyGuy (945258)

      The article quotes on of the leads as saying that they have no legacy restrictions, so they are probably going to go with something very fast and very state of the art.

      IOW, ForthOS.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by SL Baur (19540)

        I googled Blue Gene/P after posting that. It's from IBM, it's a supercomputer. Duh. What else would it be running?

        The article quotes on of the leads as saying that they have no legacy restrictions, so they are probably going to go with something very fast and very state of the art.

        From http://www-03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/21791.wss [ibm.com]

        The Blue Gene supercomputer operating system is based on the open-source Linux operating system. Applications are written in common languages such as Fortran, C and C++ using standards-based MPI communications protocols. The Blue Gene/P supercomputer is compatible with the diverse applications currently running on the Blue Gene/L supercomputer, including leading research in physics, chemistry, biology, aerospace, astrophysics, genetics, materials science, cosmology and seismology.

        • My understanding is that custom hardware supercomputers like BlueGene are generally moving away from operating systems and more toward compiling code that runs pretty much directly on the metal. The IO/head nodes runs Linux, the compute nodes run a minimal OS.
  • Pun intended?
  • from TFA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by goose-incarnated (1145029) <lelanthran@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Friday September 26, 2008 @02:07AM (#25162335) Homepage Journal

    ... will be located at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), a research university that was announced in 2007 and is due to open in a year from now ... "The best thing about KAUST is we have no legacy systems and no legacy thinking," Majid Al-Ghaslan, the university's interim CIO, told Computerworld.

    Kind of an odd way to run a research institution - research is all about legacy.

    • Re:from TFA (Score:5, Insightful)

      by raju1kabir (251972) on Friday September 26, 2008 @02:10AM (#25162355) Homepage

      Kind of an odd way to run a research institution - research is all about legacy.

      Not odd if you've ever been to a Saudi university. They'll spend millions on this so they can say they have it, then it'll just sit there using electricity and being used to play Tetris.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        I dunno, they seem quite genuine - TFA says it's to be used for:

        Al-Ghaslan said the system will be used by researchers for a wide range of computational work in life and physical sciences, as well as in high performance-computing research, to improve the performance of code on systems of this type.

        And all scientists but us computer geeks want tons of computational power - talk to any biologist or physicist and they always moan about how long their projects take. Every research institution should have access to a high-performance computing lab, so this is possibly a good thing.

        Although, bomb simulations also come under the heading of "research" ;-)

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Computer geeks know how to code and don't need big computers.
          Biologist and physicist don't know how to code and need big computers.

          Coincidence? I think not.

          • Re:from TFA (Score:4, Insightful)

            by Entropius (188861) on Friday September 26, 2008 @04:05AM (#25162919)

            Except many computational physicists do in fact know how to code, and their stuff still requires big computers.

            What do you think they're doing, running COBOL on them? The lattice QCD code that I've seen is all in C. (Maybe you can teach them how to code? It's GPL, after all...)

            There are legitimate scientific uses of that many cycles.

        • Re:from TFA (Score:5, Funny)

          by Profane MuthaFucka (574406) <busheatskok@gmail.com> on Friday September 26, 2008 @03:18AM (#25162655) Homepage Journal

          Step up one level. You'll find two princes who both have the same fastest cars in the world, the two fastest race horses in the world, the two largest private jet aircraft in the world, and the largest palaces in the world.

          It's just the next competition.
          Prince A: "My research lab has 1000 scientists!"
          Prince B: "Oh Yea? Well I have 1000 scientists and I'm hiring 10 more next week."
          Observer: "What are they working on?"
          Prince A&B: "Mine's bigger!"

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Otter (3800)
          A number of different factors are required for successful research, and the Saudis and neighbors have no interest in any that can't be accomplished solely by writing a check. As others are saying, this is absolutely typical of them.
          • A number of different factors are required for successful research, and the Saudis and neighbors have no interest in any that can't be accomplished solely by writing a check.

            The biggest thing required for research is the cheque. Trust me on this :-)

            When friends and family ask me "Why do you guys do research anyway", I confidently answer "To get more funds" :-)

            • by Otter (3800)
              I'm a researcher too, and we both know the difference between joking like that and seriously pursuing it as an administrative policy.
      • Totally agree. I've seen it happen befor in former comunist countries in East Europe and I have a very strong feeling the same thing will happen to the Saudi Supercomputer.
        • Those countries have an extremely strong computational and intellectual legacy. Don't knock them. Saudi Arabia is completely different.
          • Maybe some of them. I am born and raised in Romania and I've seen first hand a similar project: the state university bought a few million dollar server from Sun - they put it in some place and they let it rot in there. There were a few guys who leaarned programming and Unix on it, but other than this... nothing. They could do that on a few workstations. It was supposed to be the core of the Romanian research with scientists loggin in from all over the country: at first they did login, the brave ones even
      • Ditto. It's the same in Egypt right now. Organizations and institutions here spend billions to keep up with the neighbors as far as just having shiny, good-looking new things, but its all for show. One university here just moved its whole campus, which is now filled with students, faculty and nothing works. It looks pretty, but there are no science labs, no public computing spaces, student services are a joke, the phones don't work half the time, the internet is dodgy at best, half of the buildings are vaca
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by belmolis (702863)

          You forgot to mention the really crucial point: there are no women.

        • It's the same in Egypt right now. Organizations and institutions here spend billions to keep up with the neighbors as far as just having shiny, good-looking new things, but its all for show

          Of course they won't admit to that, ever.

          See, they're all in de nile [instantrimshot.com].

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mapkinase (958129)

      Don't you think you are reading too much into this statement? It surely does not mean that they did not study previous research, only that since previous research has not been carried in a particular institution they do not have psychological inhibitions of overcoming bad legacy.

      The fact that Newton who said famously Pigmaei gigantum humeris impositi plusquam ipsi gigantes vident did not stand on the shoulders of his biological father, does not mean he did not stand on the shoulders of his scientific fathe

  • Right up there with world's tallest building. Even for a geek this list holds very little interest.
    • I disagree. While building a taller building has no real benefit, that is there is no reason not to build a wide building or gasp multiple buildings. (Honestly I'd be more impressed with safer buildings). Supercomputing does have benefits, the faster you can do calculations the better for many scientific problems. While I don't really care who has the fastest supercomputer, advances in supercomputing are welcomed achievements and I applaud those that put the work into progressing the field. I wish my sch
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by raju1kabir (251972)

        building a taller building has no real benefit, that is there is no reason not to build a wide building

        There is, if you like windows.

        • building a taller building has no real benefit, that is there is no reason not to build a wide building

          There is, if you like windows.

          Uh...

      • by stjobe (78285)

        Building the world's largest building has several important benefits:
        1. It's a statement of superiority (why did you build that building? Because we CAN, and you CAN'T.)
        2. It facilitates development in a number of related fields (construction, materials science etc)
        3. It encourages national pride and a spirit of can-do in most areas of society.

        IMO, the day we stopped building the tallest buildings is the day we started to fall behind.

        • Building the world's largest building has several important benefits:
          1. It's a statement of superiority (why did you build that building? Because we CAN, and you CAN'T.)
          2. It facilitates development in a number of related fields (construction, materials science etc)
          3. It encourages national pride and a spirit of can-do in most areas of society.
          IMO, the day we stopped building the tallest buildings is the day we started to fall behind.

          Here in Malaysia we had the world's tallest buildings [wikipedia.org] for a while. I

        • A Link to some info about Burj Dubai. The tallest man made structure ever built.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burj_dubai

          See where the architects are from? The contractors? Structural Engineers? Dubai's ONLY contribution to this feat of engineering is money.

  • Like letting women drive and hold jobs, or letting men listen to music. The only purpose of a country is to treat its citizens right, and technological achievements do not mean zip if they are not applied for that purpose.

    • by mazarin5 (309432) on Friday September 26, 2008 @02:58AM (#25162567) Journal

      Maybe they'll run some simulations to see how that pans out :)

    • by Colin Smith (2679)

      The only purpose of a country is to treat its citizens right

      Um... Most countries came about because one particularly bloody family killed off all their competition and expanded into their territory.

      I suggest you take a short look at world history.

       

    • Actually, the primary purpose of a community or country is to secure the safety of citizens and their possessions. Everything else evolved from whiners.
    • by Fumus (1258966)
      I'm not wanting to flame, but just think about it for a second.
      It's their religion and their country. Using a slightly less controversial topic:
      If you didn't eat pork because you think it's unclean, would you give a rat's ass about all those crazy people eating it and trying to force it down your throat?

      It's all fun and games, until someone starts a religious war.
      • I don't care if people don't eat pork. I care if they refuse to let their neighbors who like pork eat pork.
    • by tgd (2822)

      Um, historically the only purpose of a country is to organize the peasants under some rich and powerful leader, and to provide some convenient way to refer to groups of them in aggregate. Its all about who is paying taxes to whom.

      Taking your narrow twisted viewpoint, by that measure technology exists to increase productivity and thus taxes collected and to ensure your taxpayers keep paying taxes to you, not your enemy.

    • It's called 'Saudi' for a reason: it belongs to the Saudi family.

      Imagine America being owned by the Bush family!!! What would it be called? "Bushiland"? "USB" ("United States of Bush")?

      How the hell do these people accept their country being named after a single person?

      • it belongs to the Saudi family

        How'd they get it then? I'll tell you how - by exploiting the proletariat! By hanging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society...

  • by viking80 (697716) on Friday September 26, 2008 @02:44AM (#25162519) Journal

    The software was a big mess: A hospital management system (basically an accounting package) written in FORTRAN!.

    It had evolved over decades. It was pretty much unsupportable, but we had the old developers in-house, so they were able to solve the weird bugs usually.

    To our surprise, they did not want the regular compiled version with customer support. They just wanted the source code.

    We told them that the source code was not for sale. It was also too embarrassing to release.

    They then put an enormous amount of money on the table, and promised to keep it in house.

    We said OK, and expected a lot of support calls at least for them to compile and install the system.

    We never heard from them again. Ever.

    Best sale ever.

    Maybe IBM has entered into the same kind of deal. Would be great to get a follow up in a few years to see how this computer is being used.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      At one of the conferences I attended here in Beirut, the chair of the department of pathology at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, Riyadh (I think his name was Fouad Al Dayel) one of the top SA hospitals was asked about their hospital system and how much it costs. He answered without a blink, Cerner for $ 50 Mil.

      I then noticed that these people would never accept to fund research for any software development in SA or other universities; if they pay a couple a mil per yr, they may have som

    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      An oil-rich fool and his money are soon parted.
    • The software was a big mess: A hospital management system (basically an accounting package) written in FORTRAN!.

      It had evolved over decades. It was pretty much unsupportable, but we had the old developers in-house, so they were able to solve the weird bugs usually.

      To our surprise, they did not want the regular compiled version with customer support. They just wanted the source code.

      We told them that the source code was not for sale. It was also too embarrassing to release.

      They then put an enormous amount of

  • by Animats (122034) on Friday September 26, 2008 @02:48AM (#25162531) Homepage

    In some ways, it's encouraging. Until recently, 90% of the advanced degrees awarded in Saudi universities are in "religious studies". Most useful work is done by foreigners, and the country has a 25-30% youth unemployment rate. About four years ago, King Abdullah decided to throw money at the problem. [zawya.com] KAUST is part of this. The university is still being built and has no students yet; opening is scheduled for September 2009. It's a graduate school only, and is intended to have about 275 faculty members. Faculty will not be tenured; they'll be contract employees.

    Presumably somebody thought that having a big supercomputer would help with recruiting or image. There are no research programs underway yet to use it. The logical application for that would be seismic processing for oil exploration, a classic supercomputer application, but that's moving to GPUs.

    • What I've heard from Saudis who have returned to Saudi Arabia after grad school abroad is that it is almost impossible to do much research because their family obligations are so time-consuming.

      • Mainly because men have to leave work four times a day to drive their wives around on errands - women can't drive, there's almost no public transport, it's too miserable to walk, and a taxi would be scandalous.
        • by belmolis (702863)

          I suppose they could have special taxis for women, with a driver and two older women as chaperones. Of course, that wouldn't leave much room for passengers.

          Seriously, though, my understanding is that Saudis are also expected to attend a great many family social events: not only weddings and funerals and so forth as in other countries but audiences and various other things.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Yvanhoe (564877)
      Note that this one rare country in the world where unemployement is not a problem : it just mean you don't work. In this country, citizens don't pay taxes but get a part of the petroleum money. They have, in fact, negative taxes. So, not working is possible and done by many people.
    • In the industry, you see similar ambitions usually followed by failure.

      The truth is, you can't just buy a honking computer and declare "users will come". You start small, build up institutional technical knowledge and a user base who is increasingly educated about HPC. Scientists new to computing will have no friggin' clue how to use the resources, and most often won't use them efficiently or often.

      Start with a resource big enough to provide an incentive for using your resource and come to that computing

    • About four years ago, King Abdullah decided to throw money at the problem. [zawya.com]

      I don't think you will establish a scientific culture by "throwing money at the problem". The problem in Saudi Arabia and many other muslim countries is not lack of scientific institutions it is lack of a rational world view.

      If Saudi Arabia wants to do science they have to address that problem. This means abandoning and actively combatting many islamic doctrines (Quran is the word of God, religious critique must be punished and so on).

      When people grow up in a culture and with a religion which discourages cr

    • by kbahey (102895)

      I have to dispute the figure of 90%.

      Having lived there for more than a decade, most Saudis I have worked with had secular degrees, mainly in engineering, computer and IT. Some in HR, ...etc. Most of them have Masters or Ph.D degrees from US universities, some from Europe. These were all on government grants. After 9/11, they shifted to Canada and Europe because the US would not be the welcoming place it used to be given the climate.

      If you are talking of post-graduate degrees in religious studies, then it wo

  • Would it not be better to send them SkyNet, a few hundred T-800 Endoskeletons? You know, the kind with the plasma cannons that shoot at anything that moves?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    is it Sharia compliant?

  • by v4vijayakumar (925568) on Friday September 26, 2008 @03:18AM (#25162661)
    to do alternate energy researches..? ;)
  • They still haven't figured out that the Ka'bha [wikipedia.org] is really the biggest Connection Machine [wikipedia.org] ever built.
    They just need to pug it in and all the LEDs will light up!

  • by squoozer (730327) on Friday September 26, 2008 @04:42AM (#25163147)

    When I think about Saudi Arabia though one of the first things that comes to mind is that it's very hot. Building a super computer in a hot country must be quite a challenge from a cooling point of view.

    I was wondering was if anyone has considered building a supercomputer in an underground cavern. They are, after all, naturally pretty cool. You would still need cooling to keep it that way but you would be sheilded from the worst of the sun.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 26, 2008 @05:33AM (#25163375)

    Posting Anonymously for obvious reasons.

    Actually this is quite a late realization. They have known that for a fact for the past few years but cared less to get into a competition. The computers are used for Oil reservoir simulation (predicting fluid flow and oil in place, production/injection rates over time), and their simulator is one of the best in the industry besides Schlumberger's "Eclipse", which it's based on scientifically, and is considered to be an industry standard.

    They dont only stop there, also "Visualization Clusters" perform parallel graphics rendering (thats what I do actually) due to the enormous amounts of data needed to be displayed on multiple screens. I also know for a fact that there is not a single country in the middle east besides KSA that has such technology (Do not know about Iran, but thats not ME anyway, or is it?)

    There are other applications running on SEVERAL clusters.

    KAUST which is mentioned in the article is actually overlooked by the national oil company Saudi Aramco (which has all the clusters I am talking about)

    P.S. I am not Saudi, but I do have the pleasure to be working with them on this technology, and I am telling you they have some of the best minds on the planet.

  • So, IBM is building it, but Saudi Arabia is "building it" according to the article summary. Hey guys, I built a gray minivan. By build, I mean I went to the dealership and bought it.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Hey, I built my house. By built I mean I hired some guys to build it to my specifications.

      Buildings, large ships and supercomputers are commonly referred to that way.

      • by smithmc (451373) *

        Hey, I built my house. By built I mean I hired some guys to build it to my specifications.

        Buildings, large ships and supercomputers are commonly referred to that way.

        By "specifications" did you mean "I want to have the biggest house in all the desert!"?

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          Nah. The desert is for losers. I've always wanted to live on an island. There weren't any around though, so I had to build one. Then I built a couple hundred for my friends when they stay over. For kicks I made the whole thing look like a map of the planet.

  • I can't believe that the jingoism in the above comments can possibly be representative of slashdot users.

    Hopefully more sane people with mod points will come along, and counteract the right-wing team-mods.

  • Saudi Arabia to become supercomputing Mecca.

  • When you have enough spare funds, you can do anything.

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