High-end system buys boost labs

Energy secretary Spencer Abraham unveiled his department's efforts to bump up supercomputer power through a pair of deals with IBM Corp.

The feds don't like coming in second. A year after Japan's Earth Simulator became the world's fastest supercomputer, U.S. agencies told how they will retake the lead.

At the SC2002 conference in Baltimore in late 2002, Energy Department and National Science Foundation officials emphasized their financial support for supercomputing, high-bandwidth networking and grid computing.

Energy secretary Spencer Abraham announced two Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory supercomputer contracts with IBM Corp. And a representative of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency talked up a new program to design a more productive supercomputing architecture by 2010.

Japan's Earth Simulator, whose theoretical maximum is 36 trillion floating-point operations per second, gave the research community 'kind of a laser focus' on more computational power for global change problems, NSF director Rita R. Colwell said.

The U.S. government owns 90 of the 500 computers on the world's-fastest list, at www.top500.org. Five of the top 10, including two Linux clusters, reside in three Energy laboratories and at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Forecast Systems Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.

The two new Energy supercomputers are likely to join the top 10 when they go live in 2005 for the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative. One, dubbed ASCI Purple, will have a theoretical peak speed of 100 TFLOPS with 12,544 IBM Power 5 processors, 50T of main memory, 100 gigabytes/sec of I/O bandwidth and 2 petabytes of disk storage, said Mark K. Seager, Livermore's assistant department head for terascale systems.

The Purple system will run production codes for 3-D simulations of nuclear weapons.

Purple and blue

The other Livermore supercomputer, Blue Gene/L, will perform 360 peak TFLOPS, roughly 10 times as fast as Japan's Earth Simulator and more than three times ASCI Purple's theoretical maximum. But Blue Gene/L will have only 16T of memory, 40 gigabytes/sec of I/O bandwidth and 400T of disk space, Seager said. It will simulate specific aspects of nuclear weapons aging, such as materials strength and explosives deterioration, instead of full weapons modeling.

Blue Gene/L will have 65,000 dual-processor nodes arranged with memory modules in a system-on-a-chip design using low-power technologies.

Under the DARPA-led High Productivity Computing Systems program, five vendors'Cray Inc. of Seattle, Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., SGI and Sun Microsystems Inc.'are competing for a chance to design a more productive supercomputer for defense and intelligence work.

Robert B. Graybill, the program manager in DARPA's Information Processing Technology Office, said massively parallel computers have 1980s architectural roots. He said DARPA wants to bridge the gap to reach quantum computing performance.

Graybill said supercomputing specialists need a better way to measure theoretical performance than calculating it from processor clock speeds.

Colwell, who as a graduate student used a mainframe computer to classify bacteria, stressed NSF's decades of support for cutting-edge computing. 'We need to expand our network capabilities and our large data repositories and develop new computational, analytical and visualization tools,' she said.

Raymond L. Orbach, director of Energy's science office, said his highest priority is ultrascale computation. His office spends $60 million annually on the Science Discovery through Advanced Computing program to improve hardware and software infrastructures.

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