The newest computer at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is powerful enough to perform 162 trillion calculations per second, completing computations as fast as 20,000 personal computers combined.
It is the second supercomputer on the Department of Energy national laboratory campus in Richland. The first one, Chinook, is ranked as the 127th most powerful in the world, and the new one, Olympus, is comparable.
"Taking a cue from Washington state's Mount Olympus, this computer is enabling PNNL scientists to reach new scientific heights," said Kevin Regimbal, director of the new PNNL Institutional Computing program.
Among its first projects are helping analyze how power grids of the future could operate and helping design better batteries for energy storage. But Regimbal is seeing interest in using the computer across all scientific disciplines at the lab, he said.
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Scientists from across the world, including those at PNNL, compete for computing time on Chinook, which is based at the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a DOE national user facility.
But Olympus is reserved just for PNNL scientists and their collaborators.
Historically, researchers at PNNL have made their own arrangements for computing, usually setting up small systems that often had no provisions for backup. When research projects were completed, computing equipment sometimes became orphaned with no budget available for ongoing maintenance.
The individual computer systems did not provide for long-term data archiving and data was not easily available to research collaborators.
The PNNL Institutional Computing program was set up to help solve that problem, with the new supercomputer as its centerpiece, and to nurture a culture of computational science, Regimbal said. Scientists who may not normally use computation as part of their research are being encouraged to incorporate it in their next project, with help from the staff at the PNNL Institutional Computing program.
"High performance computing and simulation will be essential to future scientific discoveries," Steven Ashby, PNNL's deputy director of science and technology, said in a statement.
Some experiments needed to answer scientific questions may be too expensive or dangerous to conduct, or not enough information may be available to conduct them, Regimbal said.
But computers can be used to instead create a model that provides information to advance science. In addition, computational power may be needed to analyze the huge amount of data created by high-resolution photos and videos.
"It's critical to how we pursue challenges," Regimbal said.
Having a supercomputer, instead of smaller systems that individual research projects could afford, will allow scientists to complete significantly more complex calculations and help them dig deeper into their research areas, he said.
Buying and installing Olympus at PNNL's new Computational Sciences Facility cost $4.4 million. About $3.9 million of that came from internal lab funding for general computing capabilities, while $500,000 came from individual PNNL research projects that invested in specific capabilities needed for their work.
"PNNL has pooled its resources in a tough economy to build the best possible computational resource that will enable new scientific discoveries," Regimbal said.
Most supercomputers use air-conditioning to remain cool. But Olympus, which is made up of 20 racks each about the size of a refrigerator, is water cooled. The closed loop of water absorbs the heat generated by Olympus as it runs.
The cooling system is expected to use about 70 percent less energy than traditional air conditioning cooling, which could save PNNL up to $61,000 annually.