Feds show off bulk-up plans for supercomputing muscle

Feds show off bulk-up plans for supercomputing muscle

National Centers for Environmental Prediction to quintuple power of the world's sixth-fastest computer, its 768-processor IBM RS/6000

BY PATRICIA DAUKANTAS | GCN STAFF

The government's pursuit of supercomputing, which has provided the world's six fastest computers, is still picking up speed.

At the recent SC2000 conference, Defense Department and civilian agency laboratories demonstrated research they do with off-the-shelf hardware and software. Vendors displayed some products that are commercial versions of technology originally developed for federal projects.

Carl P. Staton, central operations director at the National Centers for Environmental Prediction in Camp Springs, Md., announced that the world's sixth-fastest supercomputer, the agency's IBM RS/6000 SP, is quintupling its power.

Installed last year [GCN, Feb. 21, 2000, Page 33], the agency's flagship supercomputer had 768 375-MHz IBM Power3 processors. A 256-node, 1,102-processor RS/6000 configuration is set to replace the 768-processor system next month, Staton said.

The agency uses the RS/6000 to produce detailed atmospheric simulations for weather forecasting. Soon the agency will join a second 256-node system to the first, Staton said. The doubling will permit more detailed runs of one of its main weather simulations, known as the Eta mesoscale model.

Finer detail

The current Eta model simulates North American weather patterns with a resolution of 22 kilometers, Staton said. That resolution will go to 10 kilometers, showing meteorologists finer details in weather patterns.

IBM engineer Jim Tuccillo demonstrated a 10-kilometer version of the Eta code, which depicted the patterns of rain and wind that blew over Texas in early November. Running a 48-hour simulation of Texas weather on a 52-processor IBM system takes about a half-hour, Tuccillo said.

The agency's supercomputer will process a 12-kilometer version of the Eta code rather than a 10-kilometer version because the latter is too computationally intensive to fit into the weather service's schedule, Staton said. The Eta model receives fresh meteorological data every six hours.


Resolution of weather patterns in models for North America will go from 22 to 10 kilometers.

'Carl P. Staton, Central operations director
Besides the usual selection of discussions on modeling, simulations and processing speeds, there was a new topic at the conference this year. Past supercomputing conferences have paid virtually no attention to security, but Eugene Spafford, a Purdue University computer scientist who advises government agencies on security, took a prime-time speaking slot to address the issue.

Spafford, director of Purdue's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security, estimated that by 2004 new viruses might appear at a rate of more than one per hour and cost more than $100 billion per year to control.

Cray Inc. of Seattle, a descendant of longtime supercomputer maker Cray Research Inc., announced a two-part upgrade to its current flagship system, the SV1.

Known as the SV1ex, the new machine will have 450-MHz processors and an improved memory subsystem, product manager Vito Bongiorno Jr. said. SV1 owners can keep the frame and swap out the processor modules.

Some federal SV1 users are the National Cancer Institute, the Army Research Laboratory in Aberdeen, Md., and the Naval Oceanographic Office in Bay St. Louis, Miss.

The Arctic Region Supercomputer Center in Fairbanks, Alaska, will be the first Cray SV1 site to upgrade its processors, Bongiorno said. The Alaska center receives funding from DOD.

Prices for new Cray SV1ex systems will start around $700,000.

SGI also announced a RAID storage array, the Total Performance 9400, that can hold 100 73G drives per rack. A 20-drive 9400 array starts around $60,000, said Tim Piper, SGI's storage marketing manager.

Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., recently bought one of the first 9400 arrays, said John Noe, manager of scientific computing systems. Sandia is evaluating a 100-disk, 7.3T RAID 5 array for use in a future storage area network, Noe said.

Two other recent SGI products are based on technology that SGI developed for the Blue Mountain supercomputer at the Energy Department's Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M.

Finally, an Itanium

SGI's CXFS file system can handle files from Irix, Linux and Microsoft Windows NT platforms, said Jan Silverman, vice president and general manager of SGI's high-end server business. And SGI's Gigabyte System Network adapter can move up to 2.5T of data per hour in each direction.

Silverman discussed the company's plans for the long-delayed 64-bit Intel Itanium processor. SGI will sell dual-Itanium workstations 30 days after Intel Corp. releases the processor, Silverman said. Itanium modules for the Origin 3000 line of servers will probably come out about three months after the chip's debut.

Just before the conference, an international committee of computer scientists released a survey showing that the U.S. government owns the world's six fastest computers.

As expected, a new 8,192-processor RS/6000 SP2 at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., known as ASCI White [GCN, July 3, 2000, Page 1], ascended to the No. 1 spot on the semiannual ranking.

During the three previous years, another computer used by Energy for its Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative, the Intel-built ASCI Red at Sandia, had topped the list.

No. 1 is twice as fast

On the Linpack linear algebra benchmark, ASCI White performed 4.94 trillion floating-point operations per second, making it more than twice as fast as the second-ranked supercomputer. An ASCI White prototype ranked 153rd last June.

Overall, the government owns 75 of the 500 fastest computers. Seventeen are listed as classified.
Computer scientists at the University of Tennessee and Mannheim University in Germany compile the supercomputer rankings twice a year. The full list, along with a description of the benchmark, is available on the Web at www.top500.org.

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