War games

GAMING SERVER? Mercury Computer Systems' latest blade server is the first to use a Cell processor.

A processor originally designed for game consoles is slowly finding its way into
government. The Cell Broadband Engine, first earmarked for the next generation PlayStation, will become a central part of a petaflop-speed supercomputer recently commissioned by the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration. The machine, nicknamed Roadrunner, will include over 16,000 Cell B.E. processors, in addition to 16,000 Opteron processors from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif. IBM Corp. is lead integrator on the project.

As it turns out, computer gaming has many of the same needs as signal and image processing. Both rely heavily on multiple floating-point calculations. And this is how the Cell B.E., which was designed by a coalition led by IBM, Sony Group and Toshiba Corp., will be used at NNSA. Researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and IBM have designed Roadrunner, to be fully installed by 2008, so that each processor will be devoted to the tasks it can perform most efficiently. The Opterons will handle the routine compute processes, while the Cell B.E.'s will focus on the mathematical crunching.

IBM is not the only company harnessing Cell B.E. for government use. High-performance embedded computer maker Mercury Computer Systems Inc. of Chelmsford, Mass., has incorporated Cell BE into some of its machines. The Cell B.E. can pave the way for doing real-time radar, sonar and signals intelligence processing on the battlefield itself, said Craig Lund, Mercury chief technology officer. 'Cell fits enough computation into a small space that it becomes practical to put in vehicles. You can take algorithms that might have been historically [computed remotely] from the battlefield'such as advance target recognition'and actually put them in the theater of battle,' he said.

About the Authors


Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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