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From April 3, 2004, News-Sentinel

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ORNL bid could put lab at forefront of computing

By Frank Munger
April 3, 2004

OAK RIDGE - Oak Ridge National Laboratory's future in scientific computing is wrapped up in a proposal submitted Friday to the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington.

If ORNL wins the competition, the lab will take the nation's lead in high-end computing and carry out a strategy for world supremacy.

"This is really about establishing a new science capability for the nation," Thomas Zacharia, the lab's computer chief, said Friday.

Zacharia admitted he was nervous as his staff tweaked the final proposal before submitting it electronically.

The Oak Ridge laboratory is partnering with several other national labs and a list of prestigious universities. Stiff competition is expected from at least a couple of other teams.

DOE plans to announce a winner in mid-April.

Part of ORNL's strategy is developing the Cray X1 into the world's fastest supercomputer. Early tests with the new architecture have met or surpassed expectations. The plan is to surpass Japan's Earth Simulator - capable of 40 trillion calculations per second - and push the capability to 100 teraflops within a couple of years.

UT-Battelle, manager of the Oak Ridge lab, built the largest unclassified computing facility in the United States to prepare for this role, and the stakes are high.

Besides its relationship with Cray, ORNL is working with IBM and SGI to develop next-generation supercomputers.

ORNL Director Jeff Wadsworth, in his "State of the Lab" address Thursday night, said advanced computing is important to research across the board.

The top line of U.S. supercomputers have been driven in recent years by the need to simulate testing of nuclear weapons testing, Wadsworth said. Now that same effort is being applied to big science questions, such as future climate change on a global scale and development of fusion reactors, he said.

Wadsworth compared the computing initiative to ORNL's world leadership in neutron sciences, supported by construction of the $1.4 billion Spallation Neutron Source and upgrades to the High Flux Isotope Reactor. Those improvements, he said, prompted a French colleague to say recently, "We're done. We cannot compete."

The ORNL chief added: "We want the Japanese to say that about our computing."

Zacharia said the lab is working with Argonne National Laboratory in developing a new IBM supercomputer. He said the computer, which would be located at Argonne's campus near Chicago, would complement the Cray system in Oak Ridge.

"We've had a longstanding relationship with IBM, and Argonne has some of the leading experts in math and computer science," he said. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California also is involved.

ORNL has many partners in its proposal for carrying out the government project called Leadership Class Computing Capability for Science.

Among these are Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington state, Sandia and Los Alamos National laboratories in New Mexico, a couple of NASA institutions, the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, and Ames Laboratory in Iowa.

ORNL's "core universities," which are regular partners on research projects, will be part of the scientific computing proposal, Zacharia said. Those include Duke, North Carolina State, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Virginia and Georgia Tech. Other universities involved: Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Brown, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Columbia, Utah, Purdue and Texas.

"We have tremendous partners," Zacharia said.

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

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