Sun Fire Powers Plasma Fusion

Princeton Plasma Fusion Lab switched to Sun servers and redesigned its data center, resulting in huge savings in time and money.

Rich Miller

March 2, 2007

2 Min Read
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For some Friday fun, let's consider some high-capacity operations and the data center horsepower they bring to the table. We've previously checked out the back-end operations of eBay, MySpace and Lucas Films. SearchDataCenter recently profiled the data center operations of Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), which is just up the road from us in Princeton, N.J. The PPPL team works on producing energy through fusion, much like the sun and the stars, an effort which could produce enormous amounts of energy. But first, the process requires enormous amounts of computing power, enough that the lab recently upgraded its systems to speed its work. So naturally they turned to ... Sun Fire.

The old Datel AMD Athlon-based server cluster that used to crunch algorithms for the floating balls of plasma wasn't cutting it. It would often take hours for the lab to analyze the numbers and publish the results -- so much so that the physicists would go on coffee breaks while they were waiting. ... Last spring, (PPPL's Paul) Henderson installed 180 Sun Fire x2100 servers running a Red Hat-based OS kernel with all the daemons stripped out to avoid surprise interrupts that could cause the number-crunching to hiccup. At first, he ran it side-by-side with the 200 Athlon server cluster so physicists could get accustomed to the change. But, when researchers discovered that the Sun cluster could crunch algorithms in less than five minutes, the Datel cluster was left behind.

The article also describes how the PPPL team reconfigurd its data center to improve its cooling, which when combined with the new Sun equipment will save the Lab an estimated $80,000 a year in power and cooling costs. Those are our tax dollars they're saving, as the lab is funded by the Department of Energy. SearchDataCenter also has a slideshow providing a look inside the PPPL's new setup.

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