DOD resource centers pump up their power

The Defense Department is moving ahead with supercomputer projects in a big way this summer, with new installations under way at two shared resource centers: one at the Naval Oceanographic Office and another at the Army Research Laboratory.

IBM Corp. is providing the technology and expertise for both sites. The computers will be made up of clusters of processors. One of the two that the office is getting — with 3,000 IBM Power processors — will be the fastest supercomputer in the military, according to IBM and DOD officials.

The projects point to the increasing maturity and capabilities of clustered processor architectures, technology analysts said.

"Clustering is the best solution we have right now," said Raj Shah, senior manager of business consulting at Sapient Corp.

The computer that the Army will use includes 2,304 individual processors running Linux, according to IBM officials. The new system is part of a DOD initiative to modernize the high-performance computing capabilities of Defense agencies.

Company officials said the system will be capable of performing up to 10 trillion floating-point/sec (or teraflops) operations and will have 10 terabytes of memory. Army officials will use it in the development of advanced weapons systems.

Charles Nietubicz, director of the

Army Research Laboratory's Major Shared Resource Center, said the increase in computing capability will allow scientists and engineers to solve complex physics problems much faster.

Officials at the Navy facility will use the 3,000-processor computer as well as a smaller 500-processor system already installed for climate and ocean modeling, said Steve Adamec, director of the Major Shared Resource Center there.

The facility is dual-hatted, he said. It supports operational computing for the Navy and conducts research and analysis.

The climate and ocean modeling that center officials do, for example, provides data for research and study, he said, but it also can predict the sea and weather conditions in a given area where ships might enter. It can forecast "all of the things a Navy fleet would want to know about the ocean on which and under which they ride," Adamec said.

The center also supports sciences such as computational

fluid dynamics, which can model the flow of air across a plane's wings; computational chemistry; and materials modeling, he said.

DOD officials also run tests of structural mechanics, which is a technical term that obscures the significance of the field. "DOD has a tremendous interest in how structures deform under a load, whether that load is because you're going fast or because of a blast," Adamec said.

The center already has a collection of traditional supercomputers from major vendors, including IBM, Cray Inc., Silicon Graphics Inc. and Sun Microsystems Inc. The new machines will augment, not replace, the existing array, he said.

"The machines are physically large," Adamec said. "They do consume a lot of power. This large machine will have 3 terabytes of memory associated with it and 70 to 80 terabytes of spinning disk [memory] as well."

It will effectively triple the center's

capability, from 10 trillion teraflops to

30 teraflops.

Managing clustered systems can be tricky, Adamec said. Input/output devices, the connections between the processors and the balance of the computing load can affect the system's performance.

"It's all about balance," he said. "You don't just live by computing cycles alone. You have to worry about your ability to output and ingest. If any one piece of that equation falls behind, you've hamstrung the others. If you run ahead, you're wasting money."

About 95 people work at the facility to keep the computing power revved up, Adamec said.

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IBM's supercomputing strategy

DOD has a total of four shared resource centers, and they are all part of an overarching high-performance computing modernization program, Adamec said.

For IBM, holding a strong presence in the centers is a strategic success, said Debra Goldfarb, vice president of strategies and products for IBM's Deep Computing division.

"IBM has retaken a dominant role in multiple dimensions in the high-performance domain," she said.

The high-performance community spans a wide range of requirements and needs, she said. Company officials are trying to provide an equally broad span of products to meet the need.

The Navy project is critical, she added, because lives could depend on it. Most supercomputing applications are in research or other arenas where problems are annoying, not potentially deadly.

"This is a production computer; this is not a research computer," she said. "This is for warfighting. If this fails, people out at sea don't know what they're doing."

Powerful specs

Among the technical specifications for the IBM Corp. supercomputers that will be deployed at Defense Department shared

resource centers:

Customer: Naval Oceanographic Office's Major Shared Resource Center.

Processors: 3,000 IBM Power 4+.

Operating system: IBM's AIX.

Peak: 20 teraflops.

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Customer: Army Research Laboratory's Major Shared Resource Center.

Processors: 2,304 Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Opterons.

Operating system: SUSE Inc. Linux.

Peak: 10 teraflops.

Source: IBM Corp.

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