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Newton's Apple

POWER7 and BladeCenter help Dartmouth scientists understand gravity

POWER7 and BladeCenter help Dartmouth scientists understand gravity
Photo by David Foster

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Customer: University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
Headquarters: North Dartmouth, Mass.
Business: Higher education
Challenge: Understanding gravitational phenomena by simulating black-hole processes
Solution: Upgrading to an IBM POWER7 technology-based blade system to improve performance and speed mathematical simulations
Software: Red Hat Enterprise Linux
Hardware: Two POWER7 blades in an IBM BladeCenter S

When you knock the stapler off your desk, you intuitively expect it to drop to the floor—and for good reason: gravity. But Gaurav Khanna, associate physics professor with the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, says gravity—despite being a universally accepted concept—is the least understood force in nature.

“People have known about gravity for a very long, long time. It’s what keeps our feet on the ground and makes apples fall on our heads,” Khanna says. “But it turns out that Einstein’s theory of gravity is much more complex than other forces in nature.”

To better understand it, researchers have been examining black holes, which Khanna says are “pure gravity. In fact, it’s gravity that, in a way, has collapsed upon itself.” By studying black holes, scientists hope to gain a basic understanding of just what gravity is—whether, for example, it’s indeed a force at all (Einstein postulated that gravity is the warping of space-time), how time may factor into it (if in fact there is time as we understand it), and how gravity squares with quantum-level oddities (in hopes of finding a unified theory of everything).

But currently, direct observational studies of black holes are nearly impossible. (They’re black holes, after all.) Which is where computer modeling based on mathematical formulas comes into play. To understand black holes—and, therefore, gravity—researchers must use massively parallel computing resources to crunch the numbers. Now, thanks to a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, Khanna has such a system at his disposal.

Although not on a super-computing scale, his two IBM POWER7* technology-based blades housed in an IBM BladeCenter* S chassis have already yielded some fascinating results—and much more quickly than his former x86 cluster could have. “One POWER7 blade with eight cores is almost equal to having 40 cores on the old system, and two of those blades have essentially replaced that entire system in a much smaller and more economical form factor,” Khanna says.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at jjutsler@provide.net.



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