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World's most powerful linux-based supercomputer

An artist rendering illustrates how the Hewlett-Packard supercomputer would be set up within the Molecular Sciences Computing Facility at the William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory.

The Department of Energy's Office of Science will acquire a $24.5 million HP Linux-based supercomputer that, when fully operational, will be the world's most powerful Linux-based supercomputer and one of the top supercomputers in the world.

April 22, 2002—The Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Hewlett-Packard Company announced that PNNL has ordered a HP Linux-based supercomputer that will allow researchers to apply computational science to answer fundamental questions such as how radioactive waste can be processed and stored, and how proteins interact and behave in order to model a living cell.

Consisting of 1,400 next-generation Intel® ItaniumIM Family Processors that are code-named McKinley and Madison, the new HP supercomputer will have an expected total peak performance of more than 8.3 teraflops. Calculations that currently take a month to complete will be done in one day on the new system. The supercomputer will be roughly 8,300 times faster than a current personal computer.

"I'm pleased that the Department of Energy now will have the world's most powerful Linux-based computer for our pivotal work in biological and environmental research," said Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham. "This new computing power will advance scientific study in a host of areas and keep DOE and our national laboratories on the cutting edge of technology. But more than that, it will allow us to better fulfill our mission to the American people to provide the science needed to solve critical energy and national security problems."

Scientists will use the new HP supercomputer to study complex chemical problems that form the basis for new discoveries in areas such as biological systems, subsurface transport, material design, atmospheric chemistry and combustion. The supercomputer also will be vital to better understand systems biology, including structural biology, genomics and proteomics.

Scheduled to be fully operational in 2003, the massively parallel computer is expected to be more than 30 times faster, have 50 times more disk space and hold 10 times as much memory as PNNL's current supercomputer, one of the world's most powerful when installed in 1997.

"Today's announcement shows how HP has worked to help accelerate the shift from proprietary platforms to open architectures, which provide increased scalability, speed and functionality at a lower cost," said Rich DeMillo, vice president and chief technology officer at HP. "This supercomputer is another validation of HP's service-centric technology vision, exemplifies the power and benefits inherent in the Itanium architecture and Linux, and clearly illustrates that there is more than one top player in the supercomputing market."

The new supercomputer is slated to be installed in the Molecular Sciences Computing Facility within the William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), a DOE scientific user facility at PNNL. DOE's Office of Science sponsors EMSL through the Biological and Environmental Research program. Scientists will be granted access to the new computer based on a competitive proposal process. They will apply the supercomputer to study geochemistry and biochemistry, radioactive and chemical waste detection, storage and management, systems biology, genomics, proteomics, materials science, fundamental studies in chemistry and computer science, and catalysis.

"The new HP supercomputer will provide researchers from national laboratories, academia, and industry with the capability to address very large and complex molecular-level computations associated with DOE's energy security mission and environmental cleanup programs," added DOE Office of Science Director Raymond Orbach.

For example, the new supercomputer will enable scientists to study a larger group of hydrocarbons, in particular complex hydrocarbons that are vital to gaining a complete understanding of the reaction mechanisms involved in hydrocarbon fuel combustion. Providing data about these reactions currently unavailable through experiments should lead to development of more efficient catalysts and minimized carbon dioxide production.

"As we try to use computational results to replace difficult and expensive experiments, increased computational power is essential," according to Dave Dixon, EMSL associate director for theory, modeling and simulation. "The advanced architecture of the HP supercomputer provides the computational power that will permit us to attain close to peak performance on our key computational chemistry problems."

Delivery of the supercomputer is scheduled to begin with the arrival of HP McKinley-based nodes in mid-2002 and conclude in 2003 with a final shipment of HP Madison-based systems.

The supercomputer is based upon a Quadrics QSNet 2 interconnect that will provide a significantly reduced communication lag time between processors and will offer highly sustained performance-two factors crucial to computational chemistry research being done by PNNL. The supercomputer will have 1.8 terabytes of memory and 170 terabytes of disk space. One terabyte is equal to 1,024 gigabytes.—by Staci Maloof


Media contacts: Staci Maloof, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, (509) 372-6313, staci.maloof@pnl.gov
Jean Shimoguchi, Hewlett-Packard, (408) 873-5125, jean_Shimoguchi@hp.com

Related Web Links

William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory

Molecular Sciences Computing Facility


Funding: Support for the William R. Wiley Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory and funding for the purchase of the new HP Linux-based supercomputer is provided by DOE's Office of Biological and Environmental Research within the Office of Science.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is a DOE research facility and delivers breakthrough science and technology in the areas of environment, energy, health, fundamental sciences and national security. Battelle, based in Columbus, Ohio, has operated the laboratory for DOE since 1965.

Hewlett-Packard Company, a leading global provider of computing and imaging solutions and services, is focused on making technology and its benefits accessible to all.

Author: Staci Maloof is a science writer and media relations specialist for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, based in Richland, Washington. She is a former newspaper journalist and a member of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW). For more science news, see PNNL News and Publications.


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