NASA looks ahead on computing

IBM supercomputer to assess agency's future requirements

NASA is expecting its high-end needs to grow, to the point that the agency has acquired a supercomputer for the purpose of evaluating those needs.

The IBM System p575+, being installed and tested at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing facility at the Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., will be used to evaluate next-generation technology to meet the agency's future supercomputer requirements, NASA officials said earlier this month.

Supercomputers play a critical role in many NASA missions, including new space vehicle design, global climate studies and astrophysics research.

The IBM system features 640 computational cores and has a peak performance of approximately 5.6 teraflops. One teraflop is expressed as a trillion floating-point operations/sec.

The system will augment the agency's SGI Columbia system, currently ranked as the world's eighth-fastest supercomputer and rated at 51.8 teraflops, according to the Top 500 project (

NASA's high-end computing needs are expected to continue to grow during the next few years, said Dr. Piyush Mehrotra, who leads the NAS applications group and is overseeing the technology upgrade effort. 'We need to keep pace with improved technologies,' he said.

The IBM p575+ supercomputer is the first element of a four-phase procurement process that might eventually replace the Columbia system, Mehrotra said.
The three-year-old Columbia supercomputer is still useful, Mehrotra said. All types of factors from performance to maintenance costs will be used to determine whether to continue using the system, he added.

The IBM supercomputer is going through an acceptance period in which NASA officials will determine how it fits into the agency's environment and applications, Mehrotra said. That should be wrapped up by the end of the June.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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