Compaq to construct 30-TFLOPS supercomputer

Compaq to construct 30-TFLOPS supercomputer

Energy Dept. system will be world's fastest

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

In selecting a vendor to build what is expected to be the world's fastest computer, Energy Department officials brought a new player to the table.

Over the next two years, Compaq Computer Corp. will construct a $200 million classified supercomputer with a theoretical peak speed of 30 trillion floating-point operations per second. It will reside at New Mexico's Los Alamos National Laboratory, home of the third-fastest system.

Gen. John Gordon, head of the department's newly formed National Nuclear Security Administration, made the announcement Aug. 22, although word of the impending contract award had leaked the previous week.

Once constructed, the Q supercomputer at Los Alamos National Laboratory will outrace today's 21 fastest supercomputers combined, NNSA's Paul Messina says.

The Compaq system, funded by Energy's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative, will outperform four other ASCI supercomputers at Energy's three weapons labs, Gordon said [GCN, June 12, Page 61]. Through the initiative, Energy conducts detailed aging simulations of nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile.

Two of the supercomputers, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's ASCI White and ASCI Blue Pacific in Livermore, Calif., are IBM RS/6000 SP systems [GCN, July 3, Page 1].

SGI built Los Alamos' Blue Mountain supercomputer. And Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., is home to ASCI's first supercomputer, built by Intel Corp.

The 30-TFLOPS system, tagged Q by Energy officials after the department's top-secret Q clearance rating, should be online by the second half of 2002, said Jesse Lipcon, vice president of Alpha processor technology at

A bigger sibling of sorts to the 6-TFLOPS system Compaq is building for the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center [GCN, Aug. 14, Page 1], Q will have 12,000 processors grouped into 375 symmetric multiprocessing nodes, Lipcon said. High-bandwidth interconnect switches from Quadrics Supercomputing World Ltd. of Bristol, England, will link the processors. The operating system will be Compaq's Tru64 Unix.

The Los Alamos system will use technology similar to that of the Pittsburgh system, which will have 2,728 1.1-GHz Compaq Alpha EV68 processors.

The main technical difference between Q and the unclassified Pittsburgh supercomputer is that Q will have 32-processor AlphaServer nodes, whereas the Pittsburgh machine will have four-processor nodes, Lipcon said.

Super power

Once constructed, Q will be speedier than today's 21 fastest computers all working together, said Paul Messina, the nuclear security agency's director of advanced simulation and computing.

The massive computer will occupy a building half the size of a football field at Los Alamos, and it will draw 3.5 megawatts of power, Messina said.

'To get the same computational power, you would need 20,000 of today's high-end PCs,' Messina said. It would take a single PC 60 years to perform a calculation that Q will be able to do in a day.

Q will perform computations more complex than those running on the other ASCI machines, Messina said.

'The whole history of the nuclear weapons program has been almost congruent with the history of simulation advances,' said William H. Press, the lab's principal director for science, technology and programs.

Messina declined to specify the number or identity of other bidders for the 30-TFLOPS contract, but he said the bid differences were small, and price was not a primary criterion.

Rather, Energy officials were looking at software tools, operating systems, interconnection bandwidth and the perceived maturity of the overall technology, Messina said.

Q's 30-TFLOPS label is based on the theoretical peak speed of its processors, but high-performance parallel computers usually realize only a fraction of peak performance on real-world calculations.

Messina said it is difficult to estimate what Q's sustained performance might be, because no computer has ever been built to its scale.

Although Compaq is new to the list of ASCI supercomputer vendors, the company has a high-performance computing history with Energy.

In 1998, Digital Equipment Corp., IBM, SGI and Sun Microsystems Inc. received research funding from ASCI's PathForward program to develop technologies for building a 10- to 30-TFLOPS computer. Compaq later that year acquired Digital, including its line of Alpha processors and high-performance computing efforts.

Lawrence Livermore Lab recently acquired a 512-processor Compaq AlphaServer SC, and Sandia's homegrown Linux cluster, named CPlant, has Alpha processors.

The 30-TFLOPS Q represents the penultimate step in the department's goal of building, by 2004, a 100-TFLOPS system to serve the Stockpile Stewardship Program.

GCN staff writer Tony Lee Orr contributed to this report.


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