from August 16, 2002, Oak Ridger

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  Ray Orbach, director of the Department of Energy's Office of Science, was in town this week to announce a new super computing initiative at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Shown here symbolically connecting a new computer link to Atlanta that is 200,000 times faster than the fastest dial-up connections typical of home computers, Orbach pledged to push the Bush administration to support the approximate $1 billion project.

U.S. computing comeback slated to start at ORNL

by R. Cathey Daniels
Oak Ridger staff

The teraflop race is on.

And Japan is winning.

Ray Orbach, director of the Office of Science for the Department of Energy announced Thursday that the Oak Ridge National Laboratory would be the "test bed" for what he hopes will lead a come-from-behind victory in the high speed/high efficiency computing race within the next five years.

To that end, Orbach pledged to push the Bush administration to fund the estimated $1 billion super computer project on a fast track, with about half that amount slated for Oak Ridge over the next several years.

"This would be of the same magnitude of the SNS," said Orbach prior to a press conference at the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce Thursday afternoon.

"Oak Ridge National Laboratory does not just fit into the national (DOE) complex, it leads the national complex."

Orbach termed the Japanese leg up on the U.S. through it's development of the 40-teraflop Earth Simulator computer a "catastrophe." The Japanese model, with a 50 percent efficiency rendering it 20 times faster than any U.S. computer, takes computing to a new level and will draw scientists around the world to Japan for basic research, said Orbach.

"The Department of Energy has responsibility for scientific leadership, and if we're not first in the world, we've failed," said Orbach. "And right now, we've lost that leadership. We need to turn around how we go at scientific computing, and DOE is committed to that turn-around."

Orbach called for approximately $300 million per year to be funneled to the project in the next few years.

About $2 million to $3 million of fiscal year 2003 funds would jump start the program that would eventually build an approximate 60 teraflop computer running at 50-percent efficiency. Currently the fastest U.S. computer is 12 teraflops at about 10-percent efficiency.

The Japanese Earth Simulator is 40 teraflops at 50-percent efficiency, but two other Japanese models are expected out soon.

One teraflop equals about one trillion calculations per second.

Bill Madia, director of ORNL, said that the Lab is up to the challenge.

"You've certainly laid down the challenge we are so grateful Oak Ridge is going to lead the comeback and we're going to do it."

Madia said the first step would be to bring in new Cray Inc. supercomputer architecture and begin testing it. The program would entail the acquisition of a 32-processor Cray XI supercomputer system, and contracts are expected to be completed in about a month. Then the Lab's Center for Computational Sciences and Cray will evaluate the system's suitability.

Congressman Zach Wamp, R-3rd-District, said there's a reason Oak Ridge was chosen for the test site.

"I know first hand this is a crises that there's a need for quick and decisive action," said Wamp. "And that action begins here because of the reputation and capabilities of the people at Oak Ridge National Laboratory."

Orbach said he hopes the nation is up to the challenge.

"I don't know if the U.S. will decide if it wants to cede scientific leadership to Japan but I hope it won't. I hope we will do everything we can to regain leadership, and that starts right here."

Copyright 2002, Oak Ridger, All Rights Reserved.
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