Argonne gets new computer facility

Energy Department donates research and development lab

The Argonne National Laboratory unveiled its new Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF) for the research and development of science and engineering advances using computationally intensive projects.

The lab, donated by the Energy Department, is part of the larger DOE Leadership Computing Facility strategy to use technology to maximize the performance of scientific applications. Researchers using the facility will conduct large-scale computer simulations for DOE's Office of Science that are impossible using theoretical or laboratory studies alone.

"The ALCF has tremendous computing ability, making it one of the country's preeminent computing facilities," said Argonne Director Robert Rosner. "The research results generated by the ALCF will be used to develop technologies beneficial to the U.S. economy and address issues that range from the environment and clean and efficient energy to climate change and health care."

Research conducted with the facility's supercomputers run the gamut from astrophysics to Parkinson's disease research, said Raymond Orbach, Energy undersecretary of science. A research team from the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California'San Diego is using the agency's computing power to find new drugs for Parkinson's. Other potential uses for the lab include climate prediction, physics, particle physics and computational chemistry.

The Intrepid IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer at the lab can calculate 111 teraflops, or trillions of calculations per second. Other computer systems at the lab include the Surveyor and BGL.

Intrepid has 8,196 quad-core compute nodes (32,768 processors) and 16T of memory. The computer will undergo a significant upgrade for 2009, reaching 40,960 quad-core compute nodes (163,840 processors) and 80T of memory. Peak performance will be 556 teraflops.

The Surveyor is an IBM Blue Gene/P system with 1,024 quad-core nodes (4,096 processors) and 2T of memory. Peak performance is 13.9 teraflops. BGL is an IBM BlueGene/L system with 1,024 dual-core nodes (2,048 processors) and 500G of memory. Peak performance is 5.7 teraflops.

The computers have a combined performance of 556 teraflops. Key strengths include a low-power system-on-a-chip architecture that dramatically improves reliability and power efficiency. The BlueGene systems also feature a scalable-communications fabric that enables science applications to spend more time computing and less time moving data between CPUs.

The agency is developing software tools that enable scientists to remotely access and control the lab and share data effectively with colleagues on a routine basis. ALCF's operations are based on a model of multidisciplinary collaboration among mathematicians and research, computer, and computational scientists across different geographies.

The lab will be available to a select group of researchers at public and private research organizations, universities and industrial concerns in the United States and overseas. Major ALCF projects are chosen by DOE through a competitive peer review program known as Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE).

Earlier this year, DOE announced that 20 INCITE projects had been awarded 111 million hours of computing time at the ALCF.

About the Author

Kathleen Hickey is a freelance writer for GCN.

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