RealTime IT News

SGI Takes Off With NASA Supercomputer

Forget the Earth Simulator and IBM's Blue Gene/L, Silicon Graphics (SGI) is laying claim to the fastest supercomputer in the world.

The next official list of Top 500 supercomputers doesn't come out until November, but SGI said its servers powered NASA's "Columbia" supercomputer to a top speed of 42.7 trillion calculations per second (teraflops) when running LINPACK benchmarks. That's 6.84 teraflops faster than IBM's latest claim. Japan's famed Earth Simulator is rated at 35.86 teraflops. LINPACK is a collection of Fortran subroutines that analyze and solve linear equations and linear least-squares problems.

SGI said its other notable achievement is that the project just wrapped up its 15-week installation at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) facility at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. The Linux OS-based system that was named in honor after last year's fatal mission of the Columbia Space shuttle was built using 20 SGI Altix servers, each powered by 10,240 Intel Itanium 2 processors.

Engineers using Columbia can draw data from a 440 terabyte SGI InfiniteStorage storage area network and use an additional 800 terabytes of existing data managed by SGI's InfiniteStorage data lifecycle management software. Columbia also benefited from storage technology from Brocade Communications and Engenio Information Technologies, memory technology from Dataram Corporation and Micron Technology and interconnect technology from Voltaire.

The system will now help NASA run simulations and power new designs for future space missions. NASA engineers said the extra power will let them simulate decades of ocean circulation in just days and assess flight characteristics of an aircraft design in a day versus years.

"Only days after the new systems were installed, we had scientists doing real Earth and space analysis on them," said Walt Brooks, chief of NASA's Advanced Supercomputing Division, in a statement. "With Columbia, scientists are discovering they can potentially predict hurricane paths a full five days before the storms reach landfall -- an enormous improvement over today's two-day warnings and one that may present huge advantages for saving human life and property."

NASA and SGI have a long history together, the most recent being NASA's success with its 512-processor Kalpana system, first installed with SGI in November 2003.

To get NASA's primary science missions on the fast track, Brooks said high-end computing experts from NASA centers around the country collaborated to build a business case that he and his team could present to NASA headquarters, the U.S. Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, and the White House.

"We completed the process end to end in only 30 days," Brooks said.

The partnership is also a boost for Intel, whose Itanium chips were designed for the high end computing systems and supercomputers. The two companies have co-created many projects, including additional systems for food maker Procter & Gamble's corporate engineering technology group.