Labs make room for high performance

NASA's Ames Research Center has accepted delivery of its first component

of the newly unveiled Silicon Graphics Inc. supercomputer and will have

an entire system up and running around February.

The research center will use the unit for three main research areas:

aeronautics, Earth sciences and life sciences. The supercomputers will be

used for a variety of tasks, including:

* Designing a replacement vehicle for the space shuttle.

* Performing advanced atmospheric analysis and simulation for improved

weather prediction.

* Studying the origins of life in the universe.

Ames has found that the SGI model, when coupled with its own resource

management software and programming model, outperforms the competition.

"It appears from our estimate, codes will immediately run six times

faster," said Bill Feiereisen, Numerical Aerospace Simulation Systems Division

chief at Ames. "One thing we have seen is that when running a very well-known

code called Overflow, the highest performance we have seen was 8 to 10 gigaflops.

Converting the code to run on the SGI architecture with our resource management

software and programming model, we're seeing 60 gigaflops. Now 60 gigaflops

may not sound like much, and some people may claim to do better, but when

you really compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges, this is about

the fastest anyone is running anywhere."

A gigaflop equals 1 billion floating point operations per second. Floating

point operations are used for calculating a large range of numbers quickly.

Although the research center has been tasked with helping NASA study

the origin of life in the universe, they also found the new supercomputer

attractive for more mundane reasons.

"Our floor space is pretty full. We would have had quite a hard time

finding space if it had been twice the size [of its predecessor], but it

has twice the number of processors per square foot. That's the only thing

that allowed us to push some machinery around and make room for it," Feiereisen

said.

The Air Force High Performance Computing Office at Edwards Air Force

Base, Calif. also will receive a new system, which it expects in September.

Peter von Klargaard, director of the office, said the system will be used

for such things as:

* High fidelity simulations of electronic warfare battlefields.

* Simulated flight testing of the F-22 and Joint Strike Fighter.

* Integrating lessons learned from live flight tests with simulated

flight tests, enabling pilots during simulation to see a realistic representation

of the battlespace.

For $3.6 million, the Air Force purchased the computer, visuals and

one terabyte of disk space.

"For the kind of thing we're doing, the SGI platform was right in line

with what needed to do. The bricks allowed us to customize the system. We

didn't have enough money for all the memory we needed, only 32G, but this

will allow us to relatatively inexpensively upgrade next fiscal year. It

looks like we need to double that, so we wanted something we can add to

as we go along," Klargaard said.

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