Does anyone remember nCube?

Yesterday I got the strangest feeling. I scrawled the internet and then the name nCube pupped up in my mind. “In the old days” this was really a machine on which I wanted to have the privileges to work on (Oracle database wise). In those days I had the luck to work on a Oracle Parallel Server, Oracle version 7.x – I forgot the specs, implementation for dutch banking cooperation.

The machine we used was a 12 node (RS6000) IBM SP2 machine. I got the chance to work for 1 1/2 months with it, I guess this was in 1995, until they decided that the concepts of working on such a machine were to complex, so they decommissioned the hardware. The 12 RS6000 machines were dismantled and dedicated to different project teams working on the same paying chip card project.

The SP series are probably best remembered by “Deep Blue“, the chess program that challenged and defeated Garry Kasparov in 1997.

An IBM SP machine

This event triggered me into looking into MPP, SMP, etc architectures. Terms like shared nothing caught my attention and I tried as much as humanly possible, in between working activities as a starting DBA, to read about this phenomenon.

Two building further from my working place, my eye caught a glimpse of a black cube like machine called the nCube. I think I probably have seen a nCube3 when I reflect that it was somewhere in 1995.

I wasn’t allowed to admire it, because I stood on holy ground and was mend for the trade floor / exchange section of the banking cooperation.

Everyone knows about “Cray“, maybe because some younger people encounter some of those names still in old Science Fiction books. What counts as well is that Cray Inc still exists today.

A nCube machine

nCube is a different story. My mind remembers the nCube as a MPP machine with an enormous amount of CPU’s. Looking it up on the Wikipedia pages it says on the nCube page, a total of 1024 (nCube 2) up to 65k (nCube 3) CPU’s.

Still today mind dazzling. I wonder if it actually performed.

nCube apparently never had that big a share on the market if you have a look at the top 500 list for supercomputers in those days. What really worries me is that the wiki nCube page is short. They deserved better. What worries me even more, is that it is actually very very hard to find pictures on the net of a nCube system.

On my search I found a nice Powerpoint presentation about parallel computing and its problems on the SDSC site. MPP never really made it in the commercial world of Oracle although Mr. Ellison tried it once with nCube. In the end it is a pity that its story is almost forgotten, at least if you take the Wikipedia nCube page as an example.