World’s largest unclassified supercomputer goes online

The US Department of Energy has opened its newest supercomputer – a 3,328-processor IBM RS/6000 SP system – to more than 2,000 researchers in the US.

The US Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Centre (NERSC), operated by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has opened its newest supercomputer – a 3,328-processor IBM RS/6000 SP system – to more than 2,000 researchers at national laboratories and universities across the US.

The IBM SP, named ‘Seaborg’ is said to be capable of performing five trillion calculations per second (5 teraflop/s). Scientists tapping into the power of the world’s largest supercomputer, which was opened to the DOE’s research community in August 2001, have already reported important breakthroughs in climate research, materials science and astrophysics.

‘Until now, this level of computing power simply has not been available to support research across a broad range of computational science,’ said Berkeley Lab Director Charles Shank. ‘As of today, however, scientists who are researching global climate change, exploring how to cut pollution from internal combustion engines, designing power sources for the future and finding new ways to treat disease have a much more powerful tool at their disposal.’

As part of the extensive testing of the IBM SP system, a DOE research team of scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Centre used the supercomputer to perform first-principles spin dynamics simulations of the magnetic structure of iron-manganese/cobalt interfaces.

These large-scale quantum mechanical simulations, involving 2016-atom super-cell models, revealed details of the orientational configuration of the magnetic moments at the interface that are unobtainable by any other means.

The work is said to be of fundamental importance in improving magnetic multi-layer computer storage and read head devices. Using 2,176 processors on the IBM SP, the team achieved a maximum execution rate of 2.46 teraflop/s, one of the highest levels ever for a code producing significant scientific results.

Computational scientists at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research are also using the NERSC IBM to run climate simulations at much higher speeds.

The goal of the team of Richard Loft, Stephen Thomas and John Dennis is to demonstrate that a climate simulation spanning 100 years can be completed within a single day on a high-performance computer such as the IBM SP.

According to the group, this represents a 10-fold increase in speed over the current rate and would represent a major advance in geophysical fluid dynamics.