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Virginia Tech Upgrade: PowerMac G5 to Xserve G5 314

An anonymous reader writes "Virginia Tech officially announced that they will be migrating their G5 Supercomputer from PowerMac G5s to Xserves. According to the article, the Xserve G5s will reduce power consumption, heat production and decrease the system size by a factor of three. The pricing of the upgrade is still being determined, and according to Srinidhi Varadarajan, they are working on getting "very good homes" for the PowerMac G5s which will be replaced."
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Virginia Tech Upgrade: PowerMac G5 to Xserve G5

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  • by peterprior ( 319967 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:09AM (#8098606)
    *looks under desk*.. I'm sure I could find room for, oooh... a couple of hundred..
    • "The pricing of the upgrade is still being determined..."

      <drool>man, when i saw this, i couldnt help but be jealous of that kind of budget. my first thought was, "must be nice..."</drool>

      <shameless_plea> considering our (small, private, broke) school is using REALLY old hardware, i could definitely find a home for them. we are still trying to make use of old P1's with 32 MB RAM (hell, i got one that we installed Win2K on! it's kind of a joke to even turn the thing on), and a lot
    • I couldnt fit too many under my desk/in my dorm room, but one or three would be nice...
  • Upgrade cost (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kris Thalamus ( 555841 ) * <> on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:09AM (#8098612)
    Does anyone know what the university got in return for allowing Apple to film the installation and staff for the Xserve promotional videos? A reduced price upgrade may have been part of the initial agreement
    • by TrentC ( 11023 )
      Yes, because having a major hardware manufacturer basically distributing an ad for your university's computing department isn't enough of a perk... :)

      Jay (=
      • Re:Upgrade cost (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Kris Thalamus ( 555841 ) * <> on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:42AM (#8098792)
        Still, unless Apple gave a substantial incentive, it seem extravagant to purchase 1100 G5s and the tower accommodating racks to house them, only to upgrade them a few months later.

        Also, a savvy Slashdot reader, leaked the plans [] some time before the upgrade was officially announced.
        • all tehy got was an educational discount that is available to every institution.

          the reason the college did what they did is so they can get into the top 5 on the super computer list, being there brings in lots of research grant money.
        • They went with the PowerMacs only to upgrade to the Xserves a few months later so that they would meet the deadline for the Top 500 [] listing.
        • Re:Upgrade cost (Score:2, Informative)

          by godzilla808 ( 586045 )
          I remember one of the project managers saying that the thought was to eventually cycle the G5 towers into labs on campus anyway. So they'll have a supercomputer and kick-ass lab machines. :)

      • As an ad for Apple: ooh, look how powerful those G5 computers are--I think I'll buy one for my home! AND migrate the server farm I manage at work!

        As an ad for Virginia Tech: ooh, look at all the blinkenlights--I think I'll send my son or daughter (okay, just son) to Virginia Tech!
  • Good homes? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dogers ( 446369 ) * on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:09AM (#8098613)
    they are working on getting "very good homes" for the PowerMac G5s which will be replaced.

    Can EBay be slashdotted? I guess we'll find out now!
  • jgaynor (Score:5, Funny)

    by jgaynor ( 205453 ) <jon&gaynor,org> on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:09AM (#8098616) Homepage
    Is it like adopt a G5 day down at VT? Is there a background check or can I just pick up my tower and beat it to death once I walk outside with it?
  • by shinma ( 106792 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:09AM (#8098619) Homepage
    To adopt one of those adorable little...


    Screw it, just gimme a G5!
  • When it was first rumored that VT might replace its G5 boxes with Xserves, a friend of mine shared the idea that the pulled machines should be resold to the public, with some indication that they had been part of the cluster, perhaps a plaque or laser engraving noting that they had been included in the VT supercomputer. I bet those things would be bid up sky-high on eBay!
    • When it was first rumored that VT might replace its G5 boxes with Xserves, a friend of mine shared the idea that the pulled machines should be resold to the public, with some indication that they had been part of the cluster, perhaps a plaque or laser engraving noting that they had been included in the VT supercomputer.

      That's a fantastic idea, and one that had occurred to me as well. The Mac people in particular would get a kick out of the 'historic' connotations.

      I mean, look at the 20th anniversary Ma

    • Okay, I'm the friend that suggested this. I'm trying to figure out how the post rated a funny. It's a serious suggestion. Those PowerMacs were a part of history, and should be memorialized somehow. Laser engraving a few words, putting Dr. Varadarajan's signature and numbering each of the cases would be a nice touch. If VT then put them on eBay they could recoup some of their cost and actually make something off of them, cause we all know they didn't pay retail.

      It's obvious TV already has plans for them
  • by laurensv ( 601085 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:12AM (#8098632) Homepage
    why not have a few more Xserves, I mean they already have the infrastructure for that much heat/power/room, so why don't they supersize the Big Mac?
    • by aaarrrgggh ( 9205 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @01:59PM (#8101770)
      Actually, the heat problem is a lot harder to deal with as you triple the density. They are looking at close to 12kW/rack, which pushes the envelope on what you can do with air.

      For every five racks you need one computer A/C unit, without any redundancy. Anywhere you have a cable dam or piping, your ability to cool quickly goes to hell, even with a 24" raised floor.

      I predict lots of problems with this upgrade... based on the marketing video they did with Apple. Just not set up to cool that kind of density.
  • Speed Improvments (Score:5, Informative)

    by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:12AM (#8098634)
    While providing no real speed improvement this should actually speed up the cluster by a factor two - The XServe G5s have error correcting RAM in which should stop them having to run jobs twice just to be sure of getting the right result. They may even get a slight speed boost from having a 1.1Ghz bus rather than a 1Ghz one.


    • Re:Speed Improvments (Score:2, Informative)

      by linwoes ( 608943 )
      I thought I might point out that ECC is actually slower per access that non-ECC RAM. There are a few clocks per access to compute and check the syndrome.
      Another thing that struck me is why we assume that VT would buy current generation XServes. I would imagine that they are going to be purchasing the next version of the XServe with a faster clock speed. I imagine that size matters but they'll get a speed boost also.
      • Re:Speed Improvments (Score:4, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @10:25AM (#8099203)
        ECC checking only adds a single clock cycle on reads and imposes no additional delays on writes since the ECC generation executes in parallel with other tasks. This delay only matters for the first cycle of a transaction; adding to the overall first access latency. The rest of the data transfers are pipelined so no additional delays are incurred. For well designed memory controllers(SDRAM,DDR) FAL is ~13+ base bus clocks for poorly designed ones ~17+ base bus clocks. 4-8% percent degredation in overall system performance is not likely(perhaps a single test can show this).
    • The Xserves do not have a 1.1 GHz bus. They are 1.0 GHz just like the Powermacs. So far Apple has always clocked the bus at 1/2 processor speed. (I've heard that the PPC 970 also supports 1/3 and 1/4, but, of course, not as happily.)

      Xserve tech specs []

  • Now for all those people who droned on and on about how foolish VTech were for not getting stripped down boxes, here's the reason.
  • a nice incentive (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nuckin futs ( 574289 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:14AM (#8098650)
    would be to reward some VT Computer Science majors.
    get an A in any programming class, take home a G5.
  • by SinaSa ( 709393 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:19AM (#8098671) Homepage
    Imagine a beowulf cluster of th-- oh wait. DAMNIT!
  • by musikit ( 716987 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:20AM (#8098673)
    when i heard about this the first thing i thought was "they just it up and running and now they are doing an upgrade?" i'm not in the cluster world does this happen often? does anyone else think that it came too soon? Or is apple giving them another deep discount to keep an Mac based computer #3 on the supercomputer chart?

  • I would like to let V. Tech know that I am more than willing to accept some of those poor, forgotten G5's into my loving home.

    There, they can spend the day happily puttering away in my new (soon-to-be) G5 cluster, working merrily at finding ways to improve the human condition, advancing understanding of the universal truths, and produce superior pr0n...
  • Motivation? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Goose Bump ( 454208 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:24AM (#8098695)
    Not a G5 expert here...

    I wonder if there is a processing gain acievable by doing this or of the motivation is purely power dissipation and space. If so, at the end of the day it seems like the power bill delta over the usable life of the computer wouldn't make the expense of the upgrade worthwhile (especially considering VT has an on campus power plant of their own). Wouldn't it make more sense to wait around for the 'next best thing' instead of the same thing in a different package? If it ain't broke, why fix it?

    But I guess they want a super-computer the football team can be proud of...

    • by HarveyBirdman ( 627248 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:32AM (#8098745) Journal
      But I guess they want a super-computer the football team can be proud of...

      Or a supercomputer that the football team can spell. "G5" is shorter than "Pentium".

    • Re:Motivation? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by demise213 ( 688261 )
      Prestige, supercomputing power, and achievement aside, as a Virginia taxpayer I'm wondering why upgrade so soon. We have a huge budget shortfall this year and other educational programs (read: high school core learning programs) are taking it on the chin.

      I'll admit I'm not an Apple fan, but I was glad to see VT take such an aggressive stance and build the Big Mac when they did. It did all the right things for all the right reasons...but why upgrade now? It's chic, but at the risk of sounding ultra-liberal
      • Re:Motivation? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by unother ( 712929 )

        I think you're looking at this backwards. The money used for this project was probably more or less grant/research money, e.g. not out of the state's general budget. As it is, the enhanced prestige from these successful projects will bring in scads of private cash to the uni, and thus will allow Virginia to push funds towards secondary and primary education, rather than VA Tech itself.

        You should be happy, not concerned.

    • I wonder if there is a processing gain acievable by doing this or of the motivation is purely power dissipation and space. If so, at the end of the day it seems like the power bill delta over the usable life of the computer wouldn't make the expense of the upgrade worthwhile...

      And your analysis is based on what exactly???
    • by Quila ( 201335 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @11:12AM (#8099703)
      XServe has it, G5 doesn't.
  • by blackchiney ( 556583 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:27AM (#8098717)
    Trust me, the university is not letting anything out of their hands that can't be obsoleted first. It's a state school so they have a pecking order. My first bet is a large majority ends up at the Empo' [] followed by professors (who are also looking to build a smaller farm), faculty, staff, other state schools, and if we are so fortunate (and this is really a long shot) you can scoop one auctioned [][PURCH].
  • by teamhasnoi ( 554944 ) <> on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:32AM (#8098749) Journal
    I can see it now. The G5s, after getting a college education, pick and choose their new jobs.

    "No offense, but after running thermal dynamics equations, your, how do you call it, 'leet' Photoshops skills are somewhat beneath me. I'm looking for something that will stretch my thinking, not bore me to tears. I don't think I'm right for you. Perhaps a Blueberry iMac would be more your speed. Yes, a beige G3 with 64 megs of ram and os 8.1 should handle your AOL sessions just fine. I'll continue my search. Thanks for your time."

    /me weeps into hands

  • PowerPC 970FX (Score:3, Interesting)

    by iJed ( 594606 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:39AM (#8098788) Homepage
    I wonder if the lower power PowerPC 970FX used in the Xserve has superior performance to the ordinary 970 used in the PowerMac G5...

    It would also be interesting to know if the 970FX has suitable energy saving modes and a low enough power consumption to be used in a G5 PowerBook ;-)
  • Forward Thinking (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rampant mac ( 561036 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:47AM (#8098846)
    "According to the article, the Xserve G5s will reduce power consumption, heat production and decrease the system size by a factor of three."

    It may seem like a waste to upgrade a system only four months old, but the reduced power consumption will save some dollars in the long term. By ditching the towers, they also save a boatload of space...

    Where they can use some some of that extra money to purchase more nodes...

    To put in all that extra space...

    How many more nodes would it take to surpass number 2 on the list? Or possibly give number 1 a run for its money?

    I think VT may be on to something here.

  • Farming (Score:3, Interesting)

    by iomud ( 241310 ) * on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:51AM (#8098882) Homepage Journal
    They can toss them about the network and use them as a distributed compile []/render []/$distributed_task [] farm.
  • by inertialmatrix ( 675777 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @09:55AM (#8098915)
    Some people are like "Why would they upgrade from dual 2 Ghz G5 desktops, to dual 2 Ghz G5 rackmount servers??"

    They won't be dual 2 Ghz G5 rackmount servers.. VTech is going to do the same thing they did when the G5's were released.. get first dibs on new inventory as soon as the new rackmount servers are released - the new 2.3Ghz rackmount servers.

    Apple knows what's in it's product pipeline, and I guarantee you that they are in talks with Virginia Tech about offering their new xserves that are *yet* to be announced. You honestly think that Virgina Tech had no idea about the nee G5's prior to Steve Job's and his keynote? They are planning on upgrading their supercomputer, and they are going to be making it FASTER, and Cooler (bad pun.. I know)

    Apple's marketing line is going to be: "Look, Look Not only is the 3rd fastest computer on earth powered by our G5's, but it also is run on our new XServes.. You need mission critical hardware? No problem. We build supercomputers!"

    -Buddha wears grass shoes
    • I think you may have your facts wrong...

      Apple announced [] the G5 base Xserve systems only a couple of weeks ago and they top out at 2GHz currently using a 90nm version of the PPC 970. They have not announced any systems based on G5s with higher clock speeds.

      Can you point to documentation about systems using 2.3+ GHz G5s (PPC970/fx etc.) and when those will be available and when VTech / public will be getting them?

      The main reason, so far stated, that they are swapping the systems is for space saving and pow
  • by Botchka ( 589180 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @10:08AM (#8099027) loud the Xserves are compared to the G5's? I can't imagine the decibels in a room full of them. One thing they don't mention in the article, and possibly another reason to upgrade to the Xserves, is the use of the Server Manager software. This software doesn't work on the PowerMac G5's because it doesn't have the sensors built in that the Xserves do. Not being that keen on cluster arrangements, I wonder if they have another product in place now that does the same thing with the PowerMacs?
    • by thatguywhoiam ( 524290 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @11:19AM (#8099798) loud the Xserves are compared to the G5's? I can't imagine the decibels in a room full of them


      Joking aside, who cares how loud it is when its this fast? I'm a very big fan of quiet personal computers, but when designing for raw power, I think I'd actually like it to sound like an earthquake when it runs. It's just more impressive that way.

    • by valdis ( 160799 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @01:14PM (#8101223)
      First off, it's in a machine room, which is expected to be noisy anyhow.

      Second off, I've been between rows 3 and 4 (i.e. dead center) when it's going at full blast, and I can assure you that the Xserve/G5 fans are totally drowned out by the overhead Leibert cooling fans.
  • right, so their system went online in November last year. so that's what - a 3 month old super computer being replaced by pretty much the same thing just to save on space and energyrequirements.

    i mean surely they have enough space at the moment, otherwise their existing cluster wouldn't exist. so why not just scale it up using the Xserves rather than losing money on an investment that is so young???
    • Re:why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by eggboard ( 315140 ) * on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @11:23AM (#8099843) Homepage
      Space is finite, so reducing your space needs by 2/3rds and reducing your expensive air-conditioning budget by some amount is actually a huge argument in favor of upgrading. The Xserves are cheaper cycle for cycle than the Power Mac G5s, too.

      The other issue: with 2/3rds of your space free, you can wait for faster G5s to appear and slot those in with very small amounts of disruption. Or a grant comes through for a $1,000,000 for more computers -- boom, you're done. No lengthy process of finding more space, spending more to build out a/c, etc.
  • It looks as if our hopes are dashed. Hi, That statement on Reuters should have read "found new homes" not "finding" Regards, Srinidhi Dr. Srinidhi Varadarajan Director, Terascale Computing Facility Virginia Tech -----Original Message----- To: Srinidhi Varadarajan Subject: Request for information regarding liquidation of the G5's Greetings Mr. Varadarajan, I am sure my email is only one of a slew of letters to grace your inbox following the press release (
  • You'd think that someone could have predicted this [] back when the Big Mac was first being hyped. I just overestimated the longevity by a month. My bad.
  • Old news (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chanc_Gorkon ( 94133 ) <> on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @10:23AM (#8099187)
    Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought that Steve Job's himself had already said this in his Macworld Keynote. An excerpt from someone's notes:

    Jobs talks about the G5 processor and Virginia Tech SuperComputer, who wanted "the first" 1,100 dual-2GHz Power Mac G5s. ("We pissed off a few people" getting them the first ones.") Cost them only $5.2 million and sending ripples through Supercomputer world. Jobs shows Virginia Tech Supercomputer video. It uses Infiniband networking; it took less than 3 weeks to assemble. Now in the top 3 Supercomputers. First academic machine to break the 10 teraflop barrier. The entire system runs on Mac OS X. Jobs says he expects to see a few more [Supercomputers] popping up hear and there

    So VT is probably going to be THE FIRST to recieve G5 Xserve's.
  • The article says the units are 1.75" in height. (Apple says 1U - same thing). That is the same height as the Dell's 1U units (1.67" according to Dell's site).

    More servers in a smaller space has a lot of economic advantages, but have you ever tried to unplug anything in the middle of a rack stacked full of 1U servers? My hands don't fit. It takes about half an hour to finagle something in or out. The real reason our jobs are going over seas isn't because labor is cheaper. It's because they need the s
    • Actually, it depends on the wiring layout. If the initial wiring job is meticulously done and the servers have decent back layouts, it isn't so bad. I've delt with setups where only network and power are plugged in, and those are particularly sparse in 1U systems.

      Blade servers are of course really easy, a 7U chassis to hold 14 servers, with only a few connections to share amongst them.
    • And, if you were thinking, you'd buy the tools to let you reach in there and do the work without tearing up your hands or requiring the work to be done by small 3rd world children...
  • What would it take for VT to be number one on the list? Anyone have any idea how many more G5s it would take at 2.0 ghz? At 2.3 ghz (as another poster mentioned)?

    With the release of the clustering software, when are all us Mac Zealots ;) going to get together and make the biggest, fastest (probably not fastest as bandwidth would be at issue) cluster ever?

    That would be rather interesting, especially if it became self-aware and started manufacturing windows viruses. Or hot robot chicks.

  • by jpellino ( 202698 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @11:28AM (#8099884)
    Xserve G5 Cluster Node 2GHz DP/80GB/2xGigE/10Client
    Dual 2GHz PowerPC G5
    512MB DDR400 ECC SDRAM - 2x256
    80GB ADM (1x80GB Serial ATA)
    Mac OS X Server, 10-seat License
    6-8 weeks
    Subtotal $2,748,900.00
    Please note that your subtotal does not include sales tax or rebates.
    Apple Part Number M9215LL/A
    Find out how to get your order for $91,235.99 per month*.
  • Top 2? Top 1? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sootman ( 158191 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @11:41AM (#8100031) Homepage Journal
    For those who keep wondering aloud if they'll be able to improve their ranking, due to ECC, 2.3 GHz G5s, etc...

    #3: VA Tech: 10.28 TFlops
    #2: Los Alamos: 13.88 TFlops
    #1: EarthL 35.86 TFlops

    So, even if they spent 3x as much and filled up the now 2/3 empty room *and* scaled linearly (which they won't, won't, and definitely won't), they *still* wouldn't reach #1. #2, however, might be within reach, if they go to 2.3GHz and the ECC is a huge help.

    Now that they more or less know where they'll wind up and there's no point in being secretive, I'd love to see them show what one box does on its own, then 2, then 5, then 10, then 50, then 100, then 200, 500, and finally 1100.
  • This is how Institutions spend money. It is based on grant money, either use it or lose it. Even though an upgrade isn't necessary, the money is there, so they have to use it.
  • by jmichaelg ( 148257 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @12:03PM (#8100286) Journal
    Unbelievable [] waste of a nice computer.

  • my home :-) Are we talking any kind of discount here? You can strip the InfiniBand hardware even, I just want the box.
  • Volunteers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MacGod ( 320762 ) on Tuesday January 27, 2004 @04:48PM (#8103913)
    They should consider reselling them to the students who volunteered their time to help set up the Supercluster. I know they already got free pizza, but a discounted G5 would probably be extremely appreciated by most of them.

Money can't buy love, but it improves your bargaining position. -- Christopher Marlowe