Father Christmas visits the DOE. (January 1997)

Ultra Super computing arrives in the Sandia National Laboratory with tera-flop computer.

One frequently reads postings on the Usenet from IT hard men boasting about how nothing but a twinhead Sparc 100 with 2 Gigs of main memory will do for their personal needs, or that their disk is bigger than the next guy's. Well the United States Department of Energy's Sandia National Laboratory and Intel Corporation, have just announced the "Ultra" supercomputer which is likely to have the IT bully boys rushing out for fresh quiche in panic. The bottom line of this mega machine is the teraflop, one trillion- operations-per-second performance. This mark was established using the highly respected Linpack measurement method. The achievement of 1.06 teraflops -- or trillions of floating point operations-per-second -- shatters the previous performance record of 368.2 gigaflops (billion-operations-per-second) by over 250 percent. "Today's accomplishment is computing's equivalent to breaking the sound barrier," said Dr. Craig R. Barrett, Intel executive vice president and chief operating officer. "Just a few years ago, a teraflop was an intellectual barrier that nature dared us to cross. Now that we’ve surpassed that barrier, we have the computing horsepower needed to address the Grand Challenges of Science. We could be at the threshold of robust scientific discovery, triggered by access to teraflop-level computing performance."



According to the DoE, Teraflop computing will not be applied to E&P. But the list of what it will do makes suspicious reading. To make things sweet, the DoE has announced that the new beast will be applied to solving what are termed "The Grand Challenges of Science" which include "issues in Applied Fluid Dynamics, Meso- to Macro-Scale Environmental Modeling, Ecosystem Simulations, Biomedical Imaging and Biomechanics, Molecular Biology, Molecular Design and Process Optimization, Cognition, Fundamental Computational Sciences, and Grand-Challenge-Scale Applications". In other words, a down-play of what "Ultra" is really for, modeling nuclear tests now that real world testing is no longer cool!

Other suggestions as to what this power may be applied to are "simulation of disease progression that could help doctors and scientists develop new medicines and drug therapy for debilitating diseases such as cancer and AIDS; severe weather tracking to minimize the loss of human life and property; mapping the human genome to facilitate cures for genetic-based diseases or birth defects; car crash and highway safety; and environmental remediation methods to clean up and reclaim polluted land". So if the DoE is just painting a rosy ecopicture, then maybe it is really for E&P modeling too. Anyone out there with an inside track on this?


9,000 Pentiums

Here is the bit for the IT machos, besides its' 9,260 200 MHz Pentium Pro processors, the beast is kitted with a mind boggling 573 gigabytes of system memory and 2.25 terabytes of disk storage. (But we know that that will fill up just as quickly as the 64K of the old Commodore Pet, so what the heck!). Peak power consumption is estimated as 850 kilowatts. And the whole system weighs in at a staggering 44 tons and requires 300 tons of air conditioning to cool it. The current record was achieved with "only" 7,264 of the planned 9,200 Pentium Pro processors which will equip the final production version. The Intel/Sandia Teraflops Computer is currently under construction at Intel’s Beaverton plant. The system will be installed in stages at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico in the first half of 1997. At completion, the computer will have 9,200 Pentium Pro processors and is expected to perform at sustained rates of 1.4 teraflops and peak rates of approaching two teraflops. Just 25 years ago, Intel introduced the world’s first microprocessor, which delivered 60,000 instructions per second. Wow even that's pretty quick!


tax dollars

U.S. Secretary of Energy Hazel R. O’Leary said, "This achievement firmly re-establishes U.S. computer industry leadership in developing high-end systems. Four years ago the U.S. government, industry and academia set a goal. At that time it was not clear how or even if a trillion-operations-per-second computer could be achieved. Now thanks to U.S. innovation, it’s not only possible, it’s being done." "The Intel/Sandia teraflop computer is built from commercial, off-the-shelf products and technologies including the same Pentium Pro processor in many of today’s workstations and servers," said Ed Masi, general manager and vice president of Intel’s Server Systems Products Division. "Using commercially available technology has enabled the government to utilize the R&D muscle of the marketplace, focusing tax dollars on combining these standard building blocks into the world’s most powerful computer."



The Linpack measurement method is the most widely recognized single benchmark for measuring sustained floating-point performance of high-end computers. It gives an accurate picture of the performance of a given computer on applications that require the solution of large, dense linear systems – a category that includes a very wide range of technical applications. A useful fact supplied by Sandia is that by the time a speeding bullet. bullet travels one foot, the computer will have completed 667 million calculations. Or in other words, in the 1/50th of a second or so it takes you to blink, the computer will complete 40 billion calculations. With 86 cabinets, it’s as big as a good-sized starter home (1,728 square feet, counting the space between the aisles and leaving a 4-ft space to walk around the machine). This "ultra" computer, is part of the department's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI), which is developing simulation technologies to ensure the safety and reliability of the U.S nuclear deterrence without underground testing.


$55 million


The announcement of DOE's "ultra" computer follows President Clinton's signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on September 24, 1996. The $55 million machine is to be installed at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico and will also be used by Los Alamos National Laboratories in California. In addition to simulating aging effects on the nuclear weapons stockpile, this "ultra" computer and others like it will provide the power for medical and pharmaceutical research, weather prediction, aircraft and automobile design, industrial process improvement and other quality-of-life research. This computer architecture invention switched the trillion-operations-per-second speed objective from the impossible to the doable. Although other countries are now widely copying U.S. designed parallel computers, the U.S. remains the world leader in building and developing big, fast "ultra" computers. So PDM readers, what you would do with a teraflop? Any good ideas will be printed in a future PDM.

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