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Originally appeared in Friday, May 14, 2004 Oak Ridger

Supercomputer: More speed, power

LAB CHIEF: 'The new machine will enable breakthrough discoveries in biology, fusion energy, climate prediction, nanoscience and many other fields that will fundamentally change both science and its impact across society.'

By: Paul Parson, Oak Ridger Staff

By 2007, Oak Ridge National Laboratory's new supercomputer could be operating around 5 megawatts of power supplied by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

It will be housed in a facility that has the capacity of 12 megawatts.

And, speaking of power, ORNL Director Jeff Wadsworth said he expects the lab's system to surpass the world's current fastest supercomputer, Japan's 40-teraflop Earth Simulator, within a year.

The aggressive timetable calls for increasing the capacity of the current ORNL Cray X1 computer to 20 teraflops this year and adding a 20-teraflop Cray Red Storm-based machine in 2005, according to lab officials. Additionally, Argonne National Laboratory - a partner on ORNL's project - plans to install a 5-teraflop IBM Blue Gene computer at some point.

Operator George Phipps
Marie Moffitt/Staff
George Phipps, a computer operator at the Center of Computational Sciences, works in the operating room adjacent to the supercomputer at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.


Breaking it down, a teraflop is a measure of a computer's speed, and it equals about a trillion calculations per second.

ORNL officials also plan to add a 100-teraflop Cray system in 2006, which will be increased to a total of 250 teraflops in 2007.

So, what will researchers do with all this speed at their disposal? A lot of research, of course.

"The new machine will enable breakthrough discoveries in biology, fusion energy, climate prediction, nanoscience and many other fields that will fundamentally change both science and its impact across society," Wadsworth explained.

Arthur "Buddy" Bland, director of operations for the Center of Computational Sciences, said ORNL's current computer system runs on 1.2 megawatts of power, but it could be using as much as 2.4 megawatts by the end of the year. Upgrades in 2006 and 2007 will likely boost the power need by a total of 2 megawatts, he added.

ORNL's team beat out three other proposals from Department of Energy national laboratories for the opportunity to build the world's fastest supercomputer. It will be housed in a recently constructed 170,000-square-foot facility that includes 400 staff and 40,000 square feet of space for computer systems and data storage.

DOE has awarded ORNL and its development partners - Cray Inc., IBM Corp. and Silicon Graphics Inc. - $25 million in funding to begin to work on the supercomputer. A DOE news release issued Tuesday stated: "It is anticipated - but not guaranteed - that, at a minimum, level funding will be available to support the DOE leadership-class computing capability for up to four years beyond FY 2004," which is the current federal fiscal year.

U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said ORNL's supercomputer will make the United States more competitive globally while creating jobs and economic growth for Tennessee.

"High-end computing is one of the critical science fields in which our nation needs to be the world's leader," said U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. "The Japanese have held this distinction for the past two years, which is a very long time in the computing arena."

On a recent trip to Japan, Alexander was briefed on Japan's Earth Simulator.

"We are fortunate that Japan is one of our strongest allies and that we have the opportunity to learn from their experience with the Earth Simulator," Alexander told his colleagues in the Senate Thursday.

The supercomputer will be open to the scientific community for research. U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-3rd District, noted that ORNL's system will be a key to scientific advancements.

"From biotechnology, bringing us new medicines, to fusion energy, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, to climate modeling, helping to clean the air we breathe, this investment will pay for itself many times over and bring greater prosperity to America," he said.

The Bush Administration endorsed Thursday legislation that would help the United States regain its supremacy in the realm of supercomputing and advance competitiveness.

Known as the High-Performance Computing Revitalization Act of 2004, the bill would focus federal computing efforts to reverse the trend of the diminishing dominance of the United States in high-end computing - an issue highlighted in a White House report released Thursday on federal supercomputing capabilities.

Alexander is a sponsor of the bill.

"This would authorize the secretary of energy to carry out research and development programs to put and keep our nation on the forefront of high performance computing," the senator said.

"The act would also authorize the secretary of energy to establish scientific computing facilities and would authorize a minimum of $100 million per year for five years to establish these facilities," Alexander continued.

"We must act to put our nation back at the forefront of science by supporting the development of this leadership class computational facility," he said. "We cannot expect to lead in science or even be among the leaders if we do not lead in computation."

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