Originally appeared in October 21, 2002 Knoxville News-Sentinel
Frank Munger
URL: http://www.knoxnews.com/kns/ornl/article/0,1406,KNS_4257_1492127,00.html

Number crunching

As computers gain power science is the beneficiary

In the high-flying world of supercomputing, some of the numbers are stratospheric.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory's "Cheetah," an IBM supercomputer, is able to perform 4 1/2 trillion calculations per second. In computer lingo, that's called 4 1/2 teraflops, and it currently ranks eighth in the world.

Fast? If the first caveman had performed a calculation every minute until the present, he still would not have equaled what Cheetah can do in one second.

But Oak Ridge has its sights set much higher. The laboratory is working with Cray Corp. to build a supercomputer that will surpass the capabilities of Japan's Earth Simulator (40 teraflops) sometime in 2004.

If that happens, it will be the third time in history that ORNL has wielded the world's fastest computer.

Thomas Zacharia, the associate director for computational sciences, said he wants to have a petaflop machine - capable of 1,000 trillion calculations per second - operating by 2007 or thereabouts.

According to his scenario, ORNL supercomputers would reach 50 teraflops in 2004, 150 teraflops in 2005, and 800 teraflops in 2006.

That, of course, is a stunning rate of progress, and Zacharia struggles to catch his breath when talking about the challenges in front of him.

But he insists the lab's goal is more than just crunching numbers with unprecedented speed.

"It's about the science: biology and materials and climate change. ... We want to provide researchers a compelling tool to do advanced computational science. Our aspiration is to lead the charge for this nation in the area of scientific computing, and I'm convinced we will."

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