NSF funds unclassified terascale computer

NSF funds unclassified terascale computer

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

AUG. 4—An unclassified, National Science Foundation-funded supercomputer at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center will host civilian research on a scale previously available only to defense and weapons scientists at national laboratories.

NSF yesterday awarded a $45 million, three-year contract for the center and its vendor partner, Compaq Computer Corp., to build an unclassified system that executes more than 1 trillion floating-point operations per second on sustained scientific calculations. Its theoretical maximum speed will be 6 TFLOPS.

Real-world calculations usually achieve only about 20 percent of the hypothetical peak, said Robert Borchers, director of advanced computational infrastructure research in NSF's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering.

As proposed by the Pittsburgh center and Compaq, the Terascale Computing System will have 2,728 Compaq Alpha EV6.8 processors grouped into 682 four-processor AlphaServer nodes. Each node will have 4G of RAM for a systemwide total of 2.7T. Compaq's Tru64 Unix is the operating system.

The contract covers $36 million for the system and $3 million per year for operating costs, Borchers said. The first portion of the system is scheduled to start running in February, and the whole supercomputer should be fully operational by the end of 2001.

The Pittsburgh center, a collaboration between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, conducts research with funding from the Energy Department, the National Institutes of Health, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and other entities.

As at other NSF-funded supercomputer centers, scientists who want to use the Terascale Computing System will have to submit proposals to a review board that meets twice a year. NSF and center officials cited weather and storm forecasting, protein folding and computational chemistry as examples of research areas that will benefit from increased computing power.

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