Cray eyes new DOE performance levels

Cray Research Inc. last week won a $110 million contract with the Energy Department's Los Alamos National Laboratory to build the world's fastest supercomputer to simulate underground nuclear testing.

Cray's four-year contract is the third award under DOE's Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) a 10-year $900 million program that aims to boost supercomputing speeds a thousandfold. The Eagan Minn.-based supercomputing subsidiary of Silicon Graphics Inc. Mountain View Calif. will provide a machine with an aggregate peak performance of more than 3 teraflops or 3 trillion calculations per second. A second system planned for the advanced computing laboratory at New Mexico's Los Alamos will provide an additional teraflop of computing power.

The combined 4 teraflops will create the fastest system in the world and one that can be programmed in a way similar to a standard scientific workstation.

John Hopson Los Alamos program manager for weapons computing said the recent contract is a crucial steppingstone to DOE's challenge to increase radically high-performance computing abilities in order to monitor the nation's aging nuclear stockpile. Because the United States committed to a global ban on underground nuclear testing in 1993 DOE manages an aging stockpile of nuclear weapons.

The new computers will integrate DOE weapons data and provide 3-D modeling and simulation designed to ensure that the stored weapons remain safe and reliable.

"The codes that we have to use need to be substantially different than the[2-D] codes we used to design the nuclear stockpiles " Hopson said. "The kinds of problems that will arise as the stockpiles get older are intrinsically three-dimensional."

IBM Corp. and Intel Corp. won the first two contracts in this phase of the program code-named ASCI Blue. Other awards may follow in a second five-year phase depending upon DOE program requirements and budget constraints.

Joint SGI-Cray Win

Mark Goldman ASCI program manager and federal business development manager for Cray Research-Silicon Graphics said the win represented a "key deal" for the companies which have been supplying supercomputers to DOE for the last 20 years. The award also represents the first joint project for Cray and SGI which merged their operations in April.

The new generation of supercomputers will be based upon a system architecture developed recently by SGI and Cray. The Scalable Sharedmemory MultiProcessor architecture uses crossbar switching technology to link processor modules into a single system image. S2MP allows systems to scale to a large number of processors because it takes advantage of the bandwidth and capacity in each module to handle growing system requirements.

ASCI Blue "certainly solidifies our position as the leading supercomputer vendor in the world " Goldman said.

"The United States wants to maintain a leadership role in the supercomputing technology. [ASCI Blue] serves the public need and pushes technology to its limit " Goldman added.

Installation in Stages

The contract requires an initial delivery system with 256 processors to be installed at Los Alamos within 90 days. Goldman said Cray plans to deliver a piece of that system (128 processors) within 30 days with the remaining 128 processors to be delivered by the end of 1996.

The final system with 3 072 processors and 3-teraflop performance will be delivered by December 1998. The additional 1-teraflop system is to be delivered to the advanced computing laboratory by September 1999.


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