DOD center seeks teraFLOPS

DAYTON, Ohio--The Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air
Force Base is upgrading its supercomputers so that by 2000 it can achieve computing power
of 1 trillion floating-point operations per second.


But Wright-Patterson officers said the center might not stop at teraFLOPS.


The center is home to one of four Defense Department major shared resource centers
(MSRC). Created by Congress as part of a $1.6 billion DOD High-Performance Computing
Modernization Program, the goal of the centers is to keep pace with technological
innovation at the Energy Department, National Science Foundation and NASA supercomputer
centers.


Although the MSRC at Wright-Patterson recently reached a performance level of 0.3
teraFLOPS, Energy is at the teraFLOP stage and rapidly moving toward petaFLOPS--1,000
teraFLOPS, DOD officials said.


"We've started a collaborative discussion with DOE to see where that technology is
taking them,'' said Paul Shahady, MSRC director for the Aeronautical Systems Center.
"They're pushing for petaFLOPS computing, and we're relying heavily on DOE technology
to take us out beyond the teraFLOPS phase."


The Air Force last year awarded a $53.4 million contract to Nichols Research Corp. of
Huntsville, Ala., to upgrade its new supercomputer center. The contract, which ultimately
could be worth more than $157 million, has three performance levels.


So far the center has progressed through two levels. Level III begins in December 1998
with teraFLOPS computing as its goal. But the Air Force is still deciding how it is going
to reach its objective, Shahady said.


"We're still trying to figure out what's the best supercomputer capability to
serve DOD scientists and engineers," he said. "We have machines from multiple
vendors on the floor right now, and we've got lots of options. We can expand the Cray, IBM
and Silicon Graphics machines or bring on other vendors."


The new center operates Cray Research Inc.'s C90, IBM Corp.'s SP2, and Silicon Graphic
Inc.'s Origin2000 and PowerChallenge supercomputers. More than 500 scientists and
engineers across DOD run programs on the Unix systems to solve problems.


A 16-processor Cray C90 with 8G memory and 200G disk space provides vector parallel
capability for vector and large shared memory codes. And a 256-processor IBM SP with 244G
disk memory supplies a massively parallel processing capability.


"Orginally, we planned to grow the Origin 2000 and upgrade it to 512 processors,
but we've had some difficulty with its stability," said Jeff Graham, senior engineer
at the Wright-Patterson MSRC. "There's a chance we may grow the IBM SP instead."


The Air Force recently installed a 224-processor Silicon Graphics Origin2000 with 112G
of distributed shared memory to run a wide variety of applications. SGI's 16-processor
PowerChallenge with 8G memory and 202G disk storage supports shared memory and message
passing programming models.


The center also runs an archival system, the Mass Storage Archive Server, that includes
a Cray J916/2512 with 252G of disk space and a 30-terabyte tape capacity. The server is
the front end a Storage Technology Inc.'s StorageTek 9310 tape archive, which uses
state-of-the-art robotics to find and retrieve data.


Prior to the upgrade last year, Wright-Patterson had a single supercomputer, an Intel
Paragon XP/S-15. It phased out the massively parallel system in April to make room for the
new supercomputers.


The center's users work in five technology areas: fluid dynamics applications for
aircraft; finite element analysis for Defense systems design; molecular modeling for
designing and developing new materials; electromagnetics and acoustics; and electronics
and nanoelectronics.


"We're not just talking pie-in-the-sky research but a tool that will solve real
problems," Shahady said.


The Aeronautical Systems Center's MSRC is working on what DOD calls grand challenge
problems.


Last month, DOD linked the center and the other three MSRCs via the Defense Research
and Engineering Network. DREN is a high-speed, wide-bandwidth network that will link
scientists and engineers at Defense labs, research centers and test facilities.


DREN will provide at least 155-megabit/sec throughput, with the potential for
2.4-gigabit/sec data transmission speeds. AT&T Corp. won the DREN Intersite Service
Contract in July 1996.


Other Defense MSRCs are the Army Corps of Engineers Waterways Experiment Station in
Vicksburg, Miss.; the Army Research Laboratory at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.; and
the Naval Oceanographic Office at the Stennis Space Center, Miss.


About the Author

Greg Slabodkin is a contributing editor to Defense Systems.

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