One of world's most powerful computers coming to PNNL campus

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 25, 2013 

By fall, one of the world's 20 fastest computers should be installed on the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory campus in Richland.

It will replace the Chinook supercomputer, which was the 21st fastest computer in the world when it was installed at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, or EMSL, in late 2008.

But technology has left it behind in the race for the fastest computing for complex scientific problems.

The new supercomputer, yet to be named, will be more than 20 times faster than the Chinook, according to PNNL.

And it will cost less. The Chinook cost $21.4 million, making the new supercomputer look like a bargain at $17 million.

The new supercomputer likely will peak at 3.4 quadrillion -- 3.4 million billion -- calculations per second.

Calculations that it can figure in an hour would take a typical laptop more than 20 years.

The supercomputer, which is being built by Atipa Technologies, will have 23,000 Intel processors and 184,000 gigabytes of memory, which is four times as much memory per processor as other supercomputers.

But what Bill Shelton, the EMSL associate director, says makes it unique is that "it will be optimally configured for climate and chemistry simulations, and biological analyses."

It will offer speed for improved climate models.

"The new computer provides a wonderful opportunity for climate scientists to get more work done and get each simulation done more quickly," PNNL climate scientist Phil Rasch, said in a statement.

It also will produce more details about how organisms work.

"More computing power is like having more pixels in a picture," said Scott Baker, EMSL biology science lead. "We'll be able to look at proteins and complex biological interactions more realistically."

The supercomputer will be used for research in climate and environmental science, chemical processes, biology-based fuels to replace fossil fuels and new materials for energy applications.

EMSL is one of DOE's national user facilities, and scientists around the world apply on a competitive basis to use it. The new supercomputer is designed to help researchers who otherwise wouldn't have access to such a powerful computer.

Atipa will deliver the computer's components by July, and several months will be needed to install and configure the system, but it should be running in October.

A phased startup should allow research to be moved from one supercomputer to the other. About 400 scientists use the Chinook supercomputer now.

PNNL will continue to have two supercomputers on campus, including the Olympus, which is available to PNNL staff. It's slightly faster than the Chinook, with Olympus ranking as the 295th fastest supercomputer in the nation.

The Chinook now ranks at 313.

The new supercomputer will be named in a contest open to EMSL users and associates.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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