IBM’s Purple Supercomputer Tops Teraflop Mark

One of IBM’s supercomputers has just shattered performance goals by 10
percent in a recent test, topping out at 111 teraflops.

This time, it isn’t a famed Blue Gene model with which the company has been
shattering speed records.

ASC Purple was created by the Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration’s (DOE/NNSA) Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) program and IBM to simulate nuclear weapons. The machine is part of a $290 million supercomputing deal struck by IBM and DOE in November 2002.

The goal of NNSA’s program is to ensure the security and reliability of the nation’s aging nuclear stockpile without performing nuclear testing underground, which preserves the living from deadly radiation.

IBM ASC Purple Program Manager for IBM Jay Pecce said engineers expected the machine to achieve a performance of 101 teraflops, but the total topped 111 teraflops in a demo last month, beating their estimates. The team used hydrodynamics and radiation transport applications that stress various aspects of the computer the way real nuclear testing would.

Weighing over 300 tons, the Purple employs 12,288 Power5 processors on 1,280 eight-way servers and houses 50 terabytes of memory. Its input/output
subsystem can pipe 2 petabytes of disk storage with 122 gigabytes of I/O
bandwidth to applications from over 8,000 hard disks.

To get a better sense of how powerful ASC Purple is, it would rank third in performance behind two top IBM’s Blue Gene/L machines on the Top500 supercomputer list.

Purple is currently housed in IBM’s Poughkeepsie Development Center. Pecci said IBM plans to move it to California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in mid-August, where it will be reassembled in a special facility.

When finally assembled, Purple will use 4.8 megawatts of electrical power
for the computer and I/O gear, which is the same amount of electrical power
of 4,800 average homes. The full system will produce more than 16,000,000
British Thermal Units (BTU) in heat, which is why the facility will have
special cooling features.

In October, Pecce and his team of hundreds of IBM engineers will run a “very
rigorous” acceptance test on Purple, with the goal of declaring it stable.
LLNL will then be able to put it into production.

While nuclear weapons simulation was the end goal for the ASC program, it
had certain benchmarks in mind, which IBM has helped it meet.

The goal of the DOE’s ASC program 10 years ago was to was to deploy a 100
teraflop system. Scientists for ASC program believed that a minimum 100
teraflops machine would be needed to deliver just to initiate calculations
for nuclear weapons systems.

A decade and three separate supercomputing contracts with IBM later, it
seems the DOE is on the right track. While IBM has helped the ASC meet this
goal, the program’s next goal is to procure a supercomputer that approaches
the petaflop speed mark and beyond.

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