Defense supercomputer models all oceans at once

Defense supercomputer models all oceans at once

Navy will also use it to make materials science, fluid dynamics and other research calculations

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

The Defense Department's newest and fastest research supercomputer is starting to produce high-resolution simulations of vast bodies of water and tiny particles of matter.


The Naval Oceanographic Office updates its Atlantic model daily to show temperatures in areas prone to cyclone formation.


The 1,336-processor IBM RS/6000 SP system at the Naval Oceanographic Office at Stennis Space Center, Miss., will predict details of ocean currents, wave heights and water temperatures around the globe. It also will simulate properties of materials at the atomic and molecular levels.

The Navy took delivery of the supercomputer, which has a theoretical peak output of 2 trillion floating-point operations per second, at the end of June.

'We're very pleased with the progress we're making,' said Steve Adamec, director of NAVOCEANO's Major Shared Resource Center, one of four large supercomputing facilities in DOD's High-Performance Computing Modernization Program.

After the first round of acceptance tests, the center has made the supercomputer available to some users, Adamec said. Full production capability is expected by the end of the summer.

Copper connects

To boost electrical conductivity, the supercomputer's IBM Power3-II microprocessors have copper instead of aluminum connections between transistors. Each of the 334 Winterhawk-II symmetric multiprocessing nodes has four processors and 4G of RAM, for a total of 1.3T of RAM.

The system also has 17T of short-term IBM disk storage for manipulating the huge data sets that cutting-edge scientific computations produce.

The most recent list of the world's fastest computers [GCN, June 12, Page 61] ranks the Navy's RS/6000 fourth. The list, however, came out a few weeks before the announcement of what is believed to be the world's fastest machine, a 12.3-TFLOPS IBM RS/6000 at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif. [GCN, July 3, Page 1].

'If the list were recast today, this system might be No. 5,' Adamec said of the NAVOCEANO supercomputer.

As the prime systems integrator for the Navy center, Logicon Inc. of Herndon, Va., solicited proposals for a high-performance system last year, and IBM won the contract, Adamec said. He declined to give the cost of the supercomputer.

Its primary task, Adamec said, is to create detailed simulations of all the world's oceans simultaneously'and at higher resolutions than can be accomplished on other NAVOCEANO computers. DOD researchers want to reduce the simulations' grid sizes, or distances between data points, from tens of kilometers to a few kilometers.

Grid crunching

Finer grid sizes require huge increases in computing power, Adamec said. Doubling the resolution of a 3-D simulation raises the number of calculations eightfold.

The DOD center will use the unclassified supercomputer to work on materials science, fluid dynamics and other research problems of interest to the armed forces. For example, studies of how atoms and molecules interact could lead to developing new materials for aircraft, weapons and armor.

The RS/6000 can handle simulations of 5 billion to 10 billion atoms at once, up from 10 million to 100 million atoms, Adamec said.

'The gratifying part is to see the really substantive improvements in science that are resulting from these machines being available,' Adamec said.

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