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 competitors.

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 supercomputer.

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 Baltimore.

"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 Zacharia.

"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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