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GatorLUG Meeting | 2011-02-16 | 6-8pm | IBM Watson - Linux plays Jeopardy

Feb 16 2011 6:00 pm
Feb 16 2011 8:00 pm
America/New York

When IBM's Watson computer faces off against human challengers on the Jeopardy game show next week, they'll also be facing off against Linux.

The IBM Watson supercomputer runs on 10 racks of IBM POWER 750 Servers that can be powered by a number of operating systems including IBM's own AIX Unix operating system as well as Linux. IBM chose Linux and more specifically, Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) as the underlying operating system for Watson.

According to Novell, there was no competitive 'bake-off' or bidding process in order to have SUSE Linux selected as the underlying operating system for Watson.

"The POWER7 platform on which Watson runs is known for its ability to meet high-performance, high-capacity and near-linear scaling," Kerry Kim, Enterprise Linux Solution Manager at Novell told "SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is the fastest operating system on IBM POWER7, based on recent SPEC benchmarks, and thus a natural choice for IBM's DeepQA software powering Watson."

Kim noted that Novell and IBM have a decade-old partnership around Linux and high-performance computing (HPC). Novell and IBM have worked closely over many years to tune SLES for high-performance workloads running on 64-bit and mainframe systems.

SLES is also no stranger to the world of supercomputers in general. According to Kim, of the top 10 fastest computers in the world, six run SLES.

The version of SLES that IBM Watson is running has been optimized for the IBM POWER7 platform. Kim noted that the platform includes advanced memory management, Native POSIX Thread Library (NPTL) and advanced multi-pathing and I/O capabilities. While Watson is competing in a live game show environment, IBM is not using a real-time Linux kernel.

Kim also sees Watson's Jeopardy challenge as a win for the broader open source development model.

"I think this is a great proof-point for Linux," Kim said. "It's an amazing achievement for the whole community. This can be seen as a confirmation of the superiority of the open development model."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at

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