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From February 2, 2007, News-Sentinel

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Up and running super smoothly

ORNL's Cray computer hums, hints at bigger things to come

By FRANK MUNGER, munger@knews.com
February 2, 2007

OAK RIDGE - Oak Ridge National Laboratory's newest computer is purring like a cat, and maybe that's to be expected. It is, after all, a part of the lab's "Jaguar" system, a Cray XT4 supercomputer that's reported to be the nation's fastest machine for open scientific research.

Sixty-eight new cabinets for Jaguar arrived here from Cray's manufacturing center in Wisconsin late last year and were installed on the second floor of the National Center for Computational Sciences.

"It's going through the acceptance testing," Thomas Zacharia, the associate lab director of scientific computing, said during a visit earlier this week. "It's doing very well. Extremely well. We're very pleased."

Within the next few weeks, the new orange-and-white cabinets will be combined with the existing Jaguar processors that have been operating at ORNL for the past year.

Ongoing research projects - including key studies of global climate change - will be transferred upstairs to the new Jaguar units, and that will enable lab workers to shut down the computer's downstairs processors and complete the consolidation.

The unified Jaguar should have an operational capability of 110 to 120 teraflops (up to 120 trillion mathematical calculations per second).

That's an amazing capability, but it's just a hint of bigger and better things to come.

ORNL and Cray are collaborating on another $200 million project that's supposed to produce a "petascale" supercomputer - capable of 1,000 trillion calculations per second - by the end of 2008. The success of that project may depend on the outcome of congressional budget negotiations under way in Washington, which will determine whether ORNL gets this year's proposed $80 million allotment for that effort.

Meanwhile, the University of Tennessee, which co-manages ORNL in a partnership with Battelle, is heading a proposal to the National Science Foundation that could bring a $350 million computing project to Oak Ridge.

The UT-led team is competing against three other high-powered teams for the right to develop a supercomputer capable of sustained research operations at one petaflop or greater. "I can't tell how fast that's going to be because I don't want that to be in the press before the proposal is submitted," Zacharia told a group of lab visitors earlier this week.

The deadline for submitting proposals is today, and a team from NSF will visit Oak Ridge on March 20. If the UT bid is successful, the new computer would be at ORNL.

Zacharia, a tenured professor at UT in addition to his executive position at the lab, is heading the proposal team, which includes support from ORNL, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Texas Advanced Computing Center, Rice University, Duke University and other academic institutions.

The competing teams in the finals are headed by the University of California, University of Illinois and Carnegie-Mellon University.

Zacharia said the competition is a big deal, even though the University of Tennessee may be considered a long shot in the elite field.

"I'm proud of the fact that the University of Tennessee is committed to science on this scale," he said. "It is what the university should do in managing the laboratory. It raises the University of Tennessee profile. It's going to attract new faculty to come to the university. It's going to bring graduate students. It's going to add to the university's vibrancy. It builds the scientific talent here, and it'll lead to more economic development and spin-off companies."

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

Copyright 2007, KnoxNews, All Rights Reserved.
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