Originally appeared in Tuesday, November 19, 2002 Oak Ridger
ORNL drops in place, but still in teraflop race
by R. Cathey Daniels
for The Oak Ridger
In the world's teraflop race, Japan, with its Earth Simulator supercomputer, outstrips all
But key Oak Ridge National Laboratory supercomputer gurus are in Baltimore this week
hawking their wares and listening closely for positive signs that the planned Cray Corp.
deal to build a computer with twice the Earth Simulator's speed will have its finish line
at the hometown reservation.
ORNL is working on design for that project, and hopes are high that with its new facility
ready by May 2003 the lab will have a leg up on all comers in the competition for that
Negotiations with Cray are ongoing, and news can't come fast enough as the lab's fastest
machine, the "Cheetah" IBM pSeries 690 recently fell from eighth speediest in the world to
16th place on the University of Tennessee semi-annual Top 500 list of supercomputers.
"Everyone here in the technical community is very positive," Thomas Zacharia, ORNL's
associate director for computational sciences, said this morning in a phone interview from
"But we are in a tight budget situation -- we don't know what the fiscal year 2004 budget
looks like," he said.
Zacharia noted that today's expected Department of Energy announcement of a $290 million
contract to build two supercomputers, a 60 teraflop and a 360 teraflop, at Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory, a national security facility in Livermore, Calif., should
indicate the absolute need for the tool.
"The fact the Secretary (DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham) is announcing these two at
Livermore indicates these tools are absolutely necessary to carry out science and
engineering, in this case for national security," said Zacharia. "But the same tools are
needed for (broad) science as well."
The drop of eight places for ORNL on the Top 500 list of supercomputers, plus the giant
steps at Livermore, can only spell good news for scientists in the near future, said
"Actually I think it's fantastic," he said. "It tells me that this is a vibrant field. We
are hoping to build similar capability at Oak Ridge. We are already building the facility,
we have the talent, such as Robert Harrison (and others), so we are ready, very ready to take
on the challenge."
ORNL scientist Robert Harrison will receive the Sidney Fernbackh Award at the conference
for outstanding contributions in computational chemistry, both locally and at Pacific
Northwest National Laboratory.
Current plans for the Cray computer call for an eventual build out of about 60 teraflops
running at 50-percent efficiency.
Japan's Earth Simulator is a 36-teraflop machine running with a 50 percent efficiency.
Second on the Top 500 list is the 7.7 teraflop ASCI Q at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The fastest ORNL computer is 2.3 teraflops.
A teraflop equals about a trillion calculations per second.
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