SGI supplies Total’s 2 petaflop high performance computer

200,000 core ICE-X Intel E5-based super calculator will be the ‘clear leader’ in worldwide com-mercial (non government) computing. Seismic imaging seen as ‘competitive edge’ for supermajor.

Imaging the complex subsurface of offshore West Africa or the Gulf of Mexico requires more and more complex acquisition geometries and above all, traces. Turning the multi-terabyte acquired data into something usable by interpreters and engineers requires massive raw compute power.

The seismic imaging workflow is mission critical to Total and is increasingly seen as giving the company a competitive edge. Following years of collaboration with SGI, Total has now acquired a state-of-the-art high performance computer (HPC) that puts it in a leading position in terms of compute power. The machine, currently under construction at Total’s Jean Féger Scientific and Technical Centre in Pau, southwest France, is a 2.3 petaflop SGI ICE-X.

The ICE-X is deployed in an IP 115 ‘sandwich’ blade configuration that doubles processor and memory density. The ICE-X comprises some 100 racks and takes up approx. 70 sq m of floor space including power and memory—not counting disk storage. While the exact configuration has not been revealed, a single ICE-X rack can house 2,304 processor cores and provides ‘up to’ 22 teraflops.

Total develops much of its own seismic code and uses SGI’s Management Suite and Performance Suite along with LSF—with an option on Altair’s PBS Professional for job scheduling and workload management. SGI interim CEO Ron Verdoorn observed, ‘The need for compute-intensive data processing in the oil and gas industry increases constantly. With data files exceeding ten petabytes, technological innovation for seismic imaging relies on both HPC and storage architectures. Both are areas where SGI offers a complete, integrated solution including services.’

Total is active in the oil and gas HPC community—with its head of seismic processing, Henri Calendra, a keen advocate for high end architectures including GPUs for seismic processing. But the release makes no mention of hybrid GPU-based computing. This could well be because of the imminent arrival on the HPC market of Intel’s Knight’s Ferry multi core HPC on a chip a.k.a. ‘MIC,’ (Oil ITJ October 2011). These are scheduled for release later this year and promise a more straightforward programming paradigm than NVIDIA’s current CUDA offering.

The ICE’s operating system is Novell/Suse Linux Enterprise Server 11. SGI gave up on its own Irix OS a while back and now works with Novell on a scalable version of the open source operating system. As of last November, Linux-based operating systems make up around 97% of the Top500 machines. Only one machine in the November 2011 list ran Microsoft’s ‘high performance’ Windows Server, coming in at a now modest 230 teraflops.

Total’s system is currently under construction with the likely first flop scheduled for April 2012. The reported 2.3 petaflop bandwidth puts the machine in the top 5 of the current Top500 listing. But HPC is a rapidly evolving area. Total’s claim to be N° 1 in corporate HPC is credible, but it compares a future machine with current petaflop architectures already rumored to exist chez other majors and seismic processing shops like WesternGeco and CGGVeritas. Perhaps Total’s openness will spark off some more announcements from other owners of ‘private’ supercomputers. More from SGI.

This article originally appeared in Oil IT Journal 2012 Issue # 2.

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