Lab's speedster paces at a rate of 12.3 TFLOPS

Lab's speedster paces at a rate of 12.3 TFLOPS

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

The Energy Department last week unveiled the fastest computer in the world'for the moment.


An ASCI White technician looks over the world's fastest supercomputer, which came online June 29.


The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory powered up ASCI White, an RS/6000 SP supercomputer touted as three times faster than the previously top-ranked system.

Developed by IBM Corp. under Energy's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative, ASCI White is powered by 8,192 copper-connected processors. It has 6T of memory and more than 160T of storage. ASCI White can process more than 12.3 trillion floating-point operations per second, said Jim Jardine, IBM's ASCI program director. That performance is roughly equivalent to the world's top four supercomputers working simultaneously, he said [GCN, June 12, Page 61].

On the Linpack test, a linear algebra program used as a benchmark by researchers in Mannheim, Germany, who rank the world's supercomputers, ASCI White reached 5 TFLOPS. That was more than double the 2.38-TFLOPS performance of the former No. 1, the Intel ASCI Red supercomputer at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., Jardine said.

The Linpack score could increase as IBM and the lab fine-tune the supercomputer, he said. The Livermore, Calif., lab is already home to what previously was the second-fastest computer on the top 500 list, ASCI Blue Pacific.

No stopping now

ASCI is an Energy initiative to develop systems able to perform 30 to 100 TFLOPS. Although tests show ASCI White to be the fastest supercomputer in operation, efforts to develop swifter machines are ongoing.

Energy, which spent $110 million on ASCI White, will use it to develop complex aging simulations of the nation's nuclear stockpile, said David M. Cooper, the lab's associate director for scientific computing and its chief information officer.

The initial contract award was $85 million in 1998. The additional cost was for a two-year maintenance contract, and extra memory and disks, Jardine said.

The processors use IBM's new copper internal circuitry instead of aluminum to speed the transfer of information.

High-speed switches let the 512 nodes, made up of groups of 16 processors, communicate with each other, Jardine said. ASCI White runs AIX along with parallel processing software to parcel out processing jobs into smaller pieces, he said.

The supercomputer is connected to the lab's internal classified network. The lab's classified and unclassified networks are separated physically, Cooper said, and there are only two outside connections: direct encrypted links to systems at Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

ASCI White, which will operate under the auspices of Energy's newly created National Nuclear Security Administration, is part of the Stockpile Stewardship Program, Cooper said. Its processing speed will help more than 100 scientists with Q-level, or top-secret, clearances certify nuclear weapons without live tests.

Nuclear weapons are designed to have a life of about 15 years, but Energy oversees a stockpile with some devices that are as much as 50 years old, Cooper said.

Previous studies of the weapons took 20 days to run on ASCI Blue Mountain, the Los Alamos Lab's supercomputer, Cooper said. It would have taken Blue Mountain three times as long to crunch explosion numbers, he said.

'The application codes are so massive that we can't look at the tables of numbers,' Cooper said. 'The computer also has a state-of-the-art visualization capability that will allow us to display the results on a screen.'

Calculations to translate the figures for display on the screen only take a day or two, he said.

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