22nd September 2009
An EPSRC funded team of mathematicians from the University of Warwick have jointly led an intercontinental effort in performing a record-breaking computation.
Using a system purchased from Manchester based Linux computer specialist, Digital Networks UK Ltd, the team, led by Dr William Hart (Mathematics Institute, University of Warwick) and Gonzalo Tornaria (Universidad de la Republica, Uruguay), linked up with with teams based in the USA and Australia to resolve the first trillion (1000 billion) cases of the ancient "Congruent number problem". This obscure and perhaps surprisingly difficult calculation, has puzzled scientists for centuries, the question having been first posed by the Persian mathematician al-Karaji (c.953 - c.1029). The problem concerns the investigation as to whether a whole number can be the area of a right-angled triangle whose sides are whole numbers or fractions.
In recent years, such calculations have been performed almost exclusively on large computer clusters. One recent "large cluster" calculation done 4 years ago saw 1 billion coefficients generated in 1 month. "Selmer", the machine built by DNUK Ltd, resolved 1 trillion coefficients - 1000 times the previous number - in around 3 days, one ninth of the time.
"Selmer" - a DNUK Teraserve R2850x, Quad socket AMD Opteron system with 128GB RAM, cost the project well under £10,000 and was supplied running a factory-installed standard Ubuntu 9.04 Server operating system. The project team simply added some additional Mathematics packages and, after testing, began the calculation.
DNUK spokesman, Peter Phillips said "Perhaps the most impressive point and one which certainly amazed me, is that "Selmer" was purchased outright, for much less than some establishments would charge for appropriate time slots on their own large clusters".
The project team used DNUK's on-line system builder to create their perfect configuration and placed the order direct with the specialist manufacturer. The company's CTO, Lee Chisnall, said "We've spent a lot of the past 18 months developing systems for virtualization and our OVP. When we first saw the specification requirements of this machine, we were convinced this was to be a virtualization monster as the specs were so perfect for this purpose. We had no idea it was actually going to be used so differently and with such spectacular results - it's not even the fastest system we build and with our high performance storage attached, who knows what could be achieved?"
Details of the machine used by the project can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/selmer and the project itself is described in the American Institute of Mathematics press release http://aimath.org/news/congruentnumbers/
About University of Warwick
Warwick is one of the UK's leading universities, with an acknowledged reputation for excellence in research and teaching, for innovation, and for links with business and industry. By 2015 Warwick will be in the top 50 world Universities. Find out more about the University's vision for 2015.
DNUK builds storage and virtualization systems. Our platforms focus on technical solutions and are designed to reduce your costs and simplify management. We've been building Linux systems since 1998 and we offer standards-based platforms that integrate with Windows, Linux, Unix and Mac networks.