from August 16, 2002, News-Sentinel

original URL:,1406,KNS_376_1328670,00.html

ORNL gets big computer race position

By Larisa Brass, News-Sentinel business writer
August 16, 2002

OAK RIDGE - Oak Ridge National Laboratory could be at the center of a new effort to build the world's fastest supercomputer.

Department of Energy and lab officials announced Thursday that the lab will serve as the test bed for a new supercomputer built by Cray Inc. in an effort to respond to Japan's recent coup in the world of high-performance computing.

The initiative was announced as part of a visit to Oak Ridge by Raymond L. Orbach, director of DOE's Office of Science.

Delivery of the Cray X1 supercomputer system is expected to begin within a month.

The U.S. government has been scrambling to keep up with the recent debut of Japan's "Earth Simulator," a computer with an effective speed 20 times faster than any U.S. supercomputer. The new effort could cost the federal government $1 billion, said Orbach, although part of the initial work will be to determine the cost and other specifics of the project.

The effort, which will involve five national laboratories, will aim to build a 60-teraflop supercomputer in the next four to five years, said Bill Madia, director of ORNL. A teraflop equals 1 trillion calculations per second. The computer will be used to help conduct basic scientific research in areas of climate analysis, fusion, biology, nanoscale materials and astrophysics. The fastest U.S. computer currently runs at about 12 teraflops.

Japan's Earth Simulator runs at about 40 teraflops per second, but two more Japanese firms are scheduled to introduce their better, faster versions in the coming months. Built on a technology called vector processing, the Japanese computers also operate more efficiently than U.S. supercomputers, resulting in higher speeds and more precise calculations, Orbach said.

Orbach said the United States must develop its own supercomputer based on vector-processing technology or sacrifice "scientific leadership" to the Japanese. He said the U.S. has fallen far behind in the supercomputing race because of its focus on commercial rather than basic research applications.

The project has yet to receive major federal funding. ORNL will get an initial $2 million to $3 million from DOE to get the project started, but Orbach said President Bush must be persuaded to set aside $100 million to $300 million per year for the next several years to complete the project.

If the project proceeds, he said, about 50 percent of it would be done in Oak Ridge.

Madia said the lab will continue its relationship with IBM, the company it has partnered with in recent supercomputing projects. IBM will be part of the new endeavor, he said, manufacturing the computer chips used to run the Cray machine.

Larisa Brass can be reached at 342-6318 or

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