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5/13/2004
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United States Targets Fastest Supercomputer

A $25 million contract awarded to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Center for Computational Science aims to produce a machine with a sustained capacity of 50 teraflops.

Winning back the title of world's fastest supercomputer is the goal of a $25 million contract awarded by the Energy Department to Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Center for Computational Science.

The award, announced Wednesday by Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, seeks a sustained capacity of 50 trillion calculations per second (teraflops) and a peak capacity of more than 250 teraflops. Japan's Earth Simulator holds the record at nearly 40 teraflops. Abraham said the National Leadership Computing Facility would be a five-year program that pools the partnership's computational resources to create the world's fastest supercomputer.

Along with regaining the speed title, officials said weather prediction, biological protein folding as well as battlefield and nanoscale simulations could all benefit from faster supercomputers.

"The new machine will enable breakthrough discoveries in biology, fusion energy, climate prediction, nanoscience and many other fields that will fundamentally change both science and its impact across society," Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Jeff Wadsworth said. "Our plans are to surpass the world's current fastest supercomputer--Japan's 40-teraflops Earth Simulator--within a year."

The partnership begins with Oak Ridge's Cray X1 computer, which will be upgraded to 20 teraflops this year, and next year will be combined with a second 20-teraflops Cray Red Storm-based processor. Also next year, partner Argonne National Laboratory will add a 5-teraflops IBM Blue Gene computer that is expected to move the partners past the Earth Simulator.

In 2006, the laboratory will add a 100-teraflops Cray system, which together with the other partners contributions will be increased to a total of 250 teraflops by 2007.

The National Leadership Computing Facility occupies a new 170,000-square-foot facility with 40,000-square-feet dedicated to a vast computer room. The remaining space houses 400 staffers. The Tennessee Valley Authority has wired up a 12-megawatt power supply connection to the NLCF's computer room.

Argonne National Laboratory and the Oak Ridge lab also plan to house a next-generation suite of modeling software at the NLCF to provide scientific computer users access to its 250 teraflops supercomputing center.

Japan's Earth Simulator employs 640 NEC Corp. processor nodes all of which became operation in 2002, and which have since achieved sustained performance of nearly 40 teraflops. NEC uses a distributed memory parallel computing system which connects the 640 processor nodes with a single-stage crossbar switch. Eight vector processors share the 10 terabytes of main memory and an internode data transfer rate of 12 gigabytes per second in two separate channels.

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