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From August 22, 2005, News-Sentinel

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ORNL seeks computing greatness

Official says lab on track with upgrades for supercomputers

OAK RIDGE - Oak Ridge National Laboratory's quest for computing greatness is on track and right where it needs to be, according to Thomas Zacharia, the Oak Ridge computing chief.

The lab's high-end supercomputers - the Cray X1E and the Cray XT3 - are performing up to expectations during tests and will be turned over to research users by the last quarter of this year, Zacharia said.

The near-term plan is to expand the Cray XT3, nicknamed Jaguar, and raise its peak power to 100 teraflops - 100 trillion calculations per second. That would make it the world's fastest computer available for open scientific uses. The milestone is likely to happen in 2006 if federal funding comes through.

"I'm more than happy," Zacharia said. "Our vision is very strong, and we have a plan ready to execute. The administration and Congress have been extremely supportive.

"Basically, I think everybody recognizes that computing is going to play a critical role in scientific discoveries of the future, and Oak Ridge is in a very good position."

ORNL won a competition among the national labs to lead U.S. efforts in scientific computing and to help the United States challenge Japan and other nations for international superiority.

The Earth Simulator at Yokohama, Japan, has been the top scientific computer for the past few years, with capabilities approaching 45 teraflops. Japan plans to develop another stunning machine - in the range of 10,000 teraflops - by 2010 or thereabouts.

It's not clear what, if any, new machines Japan may unveil between now and then, Zacharia said.

ORNL recently completed upgrades to its Cray X1E, nicknamed Phoenix, which has vector architecture somewhat similar to that of the Earth Simulator. The eight-cabinet Phoenix is running at 18.6 teraflops, Zacharia said.

"It is undoubtedly the largest scalable vector machine in the U.S. and the largest scalable Cray in the world," Zacharia said. "We are just running it through the acceptance tests."

The Cray XT3, which stands out in ORNL's computer center because of its orange-and-white cabinets, is running at about 25 teraflops.

The Jaguar has scalar architecture and uses processors made by Advanced Micro Devices. Additional cabinets would bring it up to the level of 100 teraflops next year.

After that, the plan is to combine the architectures of the Cray X1E and the Cray XT3 into a next-generation machine capable of about 1,000 teraflops. That, according to Zacharia, could occur sometime between 2008 and 2010 if the budgets are favorable.

"Right now, we're at the level we should be," he said.

Senior writer Frank Munger may be reached at 865-342-6329.

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