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From February 9, 2004, News-Sentinel

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ORNL's newest computer really runs

By Frank Munger
Febraury 9, 2004

Things move quickly at Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Center for Computational Sciences.

The stable of supercomputers has the collective capability to do more than 10 trillion mathematical calculations per second. That's the latest word from Buddy Bland, the center's director of operations.

The IBM Power4 system, nicknamed Cheetah, still heads the list with a power of 4.5 trillion calculations per second, or 4.5 teraflops. But the buzz surrounds the early-version Cray X1, a developing system that now has eight cabinets and 256 processors and a capability of 3.2 trillion calculations per second.

The initial Cray setup passed its acceptance test and is undergoing evaluation on a "suite of scientific computer programs" ranging from global climate modeling and high-temperature superconductivity to astrophysics and fusion energy, Bland said.

The ORNL center is working with the U.S. Department of Energy to acquire funding to boost the Cray X1 to 10 trillion operations per second later this year and to 100 trillion-plus in 2006, he said.

Japan's Earth Simulator is currently the world's fastest computer with a top end of about 40 teraflops.

ORNL last year had the 256 processors loaded into four cabinets of the Cray system. That's the maximum configuration. After acquiring four more cabinets, however, the lab opted to half-load eight cabinets with the 256 processors to look at the performance with additional interconnections.

"What this tells us is about the scalability of the machine,'' Bland said. "How well does this system expand?"

The lab is still evaluating the Cray's basic capabilities, and there was no reason at this point to purchase the additional processors necessary to fully load eight cabinets, he said.

Meanwhile, the Oak Ridge computing center also houses a new SGI Altix system (called Ram), which has 1.5 teraflops of power and some special capabilities. "We are collaborating with SGI to evaluate running the entire 256-processor system with only one copy of the operating system,'' Bland said. "Currently, SGI only supports this mode of operation with up to 64 processors. But the (Oak Ridge lab) is pushing the limits in the name of science. We are seeing excellent results on this system in computational chemistry, global climate modeling and computational biology."

The IBM Cheetah also is undergoing upgrades. A faster internal network - code-named Federation - will quadruple the speed of messages inside the machine, Bland said.

"It is our hope that this will translate into doubling the performance of certain types of applications," he said.

The lab's other terascale computer is the IBM Eagle, which is capable of 1 trillion calculations per second.

Carl Kohrt, president and chief executive officer of Battelle, was in Oak Ridge recently and met with ORNL staff. He also sat down for a while with newspaper reporters.

Battelle manages the Oak Ridge laboratory in a partnership with the University of Tennessee. The Ohio-based research organization is also engaged at other national labs, including Pacific Northwest, Brookhaven and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Kohrt, of course, wouldn't divulge the company's plans for other U.S. Department of Energy contracts coming up for bids, but he did acknowledge a specific interest in the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. DOE has released a draft Request for Proposals on the Idaho contract.

"It is a laboratory that we're quite interested in because it fits the profile of Battelle," Kohrt said. "But it also fits in with the portfolio that Oak Ridge, Pacific Northwest, Brookhaven all have with a science base as it relates to energy. So it would be quite attractive strategically. But it is a competition, and I'm sure there will be other competitors in that process. We're hopeful, but we can't be sure."

Battelle will review other DOE contracts as they come along to see if they meet the company's purposes, Kohrt said.

Senior writer Frank Munger may be reached at 865-342-6329 or munger@knews.com.

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