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.

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