NASA’s New Supercomputer is World’s Fastest

NASA unveils its newest supercomputer today during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the agency’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. The “Columbia” is one of the world’s most powerful supercomputing systems. Columbia was named to honor the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia lost Feb. 1, 2003.

“This amazing new supercomputer system dramatically increases NASA’s capabilities and revolutionizes our capacity for conducting scientific research and engineering design,” said NASA Ames Research Center Director G. Scott Hubbard. “It will be one of the fastest, largest and most productive supercomputers in the world, providing an estimated 10-fold increase in NASA’s supercomputing capacity. It is already having a major impact on NASA’s science, aeronautics and exploration programs, in addition to playing a critical role in preparing the Space Shuttle for return to safe flight next year,” Hubbard said.

Comprised of an integrated cluster of 20 interconnected SGI? Altix? 512-processor systems, for a total of 10,240 Intel? Itanium? 2 processors, Columbia was built and installed at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing facility at Ames in less than 120 days.

“The Columbia system is a tremendous development for NASA and the nation. Simulation of the evolution of the Earth and planetary ecosystems with high fidelity has been beyond the reach of Earth scientists for decades,” NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate Ghassem Asrar said. “With Columbia, scientists are already seeing dramatic improvements in the fidelity of simulations in such areas as hurricane track prediction, global ocean circulation, prediction of large scale structures in the universe, and the physics of supernova detonations,” he said.

Columbia provides an integrated computing, visualization and data storage environment to help NASA meet its mission goals and the Vision for Space Exploration. The new system builds upon the highly successful collaboration between NASA, Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) and Intel Corporation that developed the world’s first 512-processor Linux server. The server, the SGI? Altix? located at Ames was named “Kalpana,” after Columbia astronaut and Ames’ alumna Kalpana Chawla.

“With SGI and Intel, we set out to revitalize NASA’s computing capabilities, and the Columbia system has done so in a spectacular way,” said Walt Brooks, chief of NASA’s Advanced Supercomputing Division. “Not only were scientists doing real Earth and space analysis during the system build, but within days of the full installation, we achieved a Linpack benchmark rating of 42.7 teraflops on 16 nodes with an 88 percent efficiency rating, exceeding the current best reported number by a significant margin,” he said.

“With the completion of the Columbia system, NASA, SGI and Intel have created a powerful national resource, one that will serve scientists who strive to unlock the mysteries of this planet and the universe in which it dwells,” said SGI CEO Bob Bishop. “NASA should be commended for the remarkable boldness that made the new Columbia computer happen. Our long-standing partnership with the agency has triggered a new age in scientific discovery, and based on NASA’s initial success, it seems likely that we’ll be discussing new scientific breakthroughs in the very near future,” he said.
“The launching of the Columbia system shows what’s possible when government and technology leaders work together toward a goal of truly national importance,” said Paul Otellini, president and COO of Intel Corporation. “While this Itanium 2 processor-based system will be one of the highest performing computers ever created in the world, the real value is how this system will accelerate scientific design and research faster than before for years to come.”
The almost instant productivity of the Columbia supercomputer architecture and technology has made the system available to a broad spectrum of NASA-sponsored scientists. Feedback from scientists is extremely positive. Columbia already is enabling scientists to conduct research and analyze complex data much faster in a variety of scientific disciplines. The research and analysis ranges from providing more accurate hurricane predictions, to climate change, galaxy formation, black holes and supernovas.

Thanks to the powerful Columbia supercomputer, NASA scientists have developed an improved global circulation model. Initial results from this new model accurately predict when a hurricane is expected to hit land five days in advance, three days sooner than current methods, thereby helping reduce the potential impact on life and property.

Original Source: NASA News Release