Army revs up its biggest iron

The Army center will receive the first Cray Research Inc. T3E-1200, a liquid-cooled
supercomputer with 256 600-MHz Digital Equipment Corp. Alpha processor nodes and 16
internal system processors.


Cray Research of Eagan, Minn., the supercomputing subsidiary of Silicon Graphics Inc.,
will deliver the machine with 139G of 50-nanosecond distributed RAM, 500G of internal disk
storage and 1 terabyte of High-Performance Parallel Interface-attached RAID storage.


Army researchers want to simulate free surface flows, air drop systems, fluid structure
interactions and environmental fluid dynamics in three dimensions, said Tayfun Tezduyar,
director and principal investigator at the Army HPC Research Center.


"Our methods and training have outgrown our computing resources," he said.


The Army has been trying to solve its 3-D modeling problems by running Fortran 77
applications on a Thinking Machines Corp. Connection Machine-5 capable of 64 billion
floating-point operations per second at peak speed. The Cray T3E-1200 will boost that
fivefold to 326 gigaFLOPS.


Researchers can expect more reliable results, because the computer models will have
greater resolution, Tezduyar said. For any given problem, a corresponding level of
resolution, or accuracy, is required to get results close to the actual physics of the
problem, he said.


The Unicos MK system software, a kernelized version of Cray's Unix operating system,
will support message-passing programming and checkpointing, said Paul Muzio, the center's
executive director for infrastructure. Checkpoint restart is a critical feature for
running large applications, Muzio said, because it helps the supercomputer recover from an
interruption without losing data or processing time.


Army and other Defense Department researchers will use 50 percent of the machine's
capacity. Researchers from six universities working on research problems for the Army get
the remaining capacity.


Local users will access the new Cray from one of two local networks: a 100-megabit/sec
Fiber Distributed Data Interface network or a 800-megabit/sec HIPPI network. Army
researchers will use the new computing cycles across 45-megabit/sec DS3 connections on the
Defense Research and Engineering Network. Researchers at the six partner universities will
go across T1 connections.


The Army HPC Research Center has been a parallel computing shop since it opened in
1989, Muzio said. People used to believe that computational fluid dynamics applications
couldn't run efficiently on parallel architectures, but that's hardly the case today, he
said.


Cray Research claims a computational price-to-performance ratio of $64 per million
floating-point operations for the T3D-1200. Funds for the $14 million supercomputer will
come from the Defense's High-Performance Computing Modernization Program.


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