SGI/Cray supers to improve weapons equipment design

The Army late last month brought online a pair of new Silicon Graphics Inc./Cray Research supercomputers that will provide Defense Department scientists with the processing power necessary to develop new weapons and equipment that immediately performs as expected according to DOD researchers.

The Army Research Laboratory (ARL) Aberdeen Md. bought two 128-node Cray Origin 2000 systems for $11 million completing the largest DOD installation of the year-old parallel-processing supercomputers to date. The rollout also is the latest upgrade in DOD's High-Performance Computing Modernization Program (HPCMP) under which DOD plans to spend $1 billion to upgrade high-end systems at its research facilities through 2003.

The supercomputers which at their peak provide 50 billion floating-point operations per second in processing power will enable scientists to add additional factors to equations— and therefo re use more life-like simulations— to study how new missiles will work how submarines maneuver or how best to dispose of chemical weapons among other projects. High-level floating-point operations are necessary to process highly graphical data such as 3-D images.

DOD program managers "want the real problem" run in simulation rather than running simulations that account for only a few variables said Charles Nietubicz director of the ARL Major Shared Resource Center which operates the supercomputers. "The algorithms and software are coming together with the hardware to allow real time-dependent 3-D problems to be solved."

The supercomputers also will reduce the amount of time it takes to get results from mission-critical research DOD researchers said. "Without the larger configurations you just can't do the [simulations at the level] we need to do them particularly as we move toward developmental test and evaluation applications " said Brett Berlin a consultant to the HPCMP office. DOD prog ram managers who want detailed simulations "have more of a time demand" and cannot wait as long as theoretical scientists for results.

'Shove in the Right Direction'

"A good simulation can give you a good shove in the right direction" when it comes to choosing materials to test thereby saving time and money on lab work said Maggie Hurley a scientist from Ohio State University who is leading computational chemistry and materials science research at ARL. For submarines researchers will use the Origin 2000 to model how water moves around the vehicle to get a better idea of how the ship will perform in real life. "In the past they've been able to look at the movement of water over a submarine in straight and level 'flight ' " said Steve Perry the SGI/Cray branch manager for DOD high-performance computing. "What they haven't been able to do is have computational power to see what happens to that submarine when it maneuvers."

ARL plans to phase out its more traditional Cray vector supercomp uters in favor of newer parallel-processing systems such as the Origin 2000 although Nietubicz said any decisions about when to shut off the older machines will wait at least until the next fiscal year. Stephen Schraml a mechanical engineer with ARL said old software has to be rewritten to run on the new platform.

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