10-Petaflop IBM Supercomputer Headed for Argonne National Lab

Argonne National Laboratory has selected a 10-petaflop IBM Blue Gene supercomputer to fuel innovation in a wide variety of scientific pursuits.

IBM has announced that the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory will use IBM's next-generation Blue Gene supercomputer to enable advances in areas such as designing ultra-efficient electric car batteries, understanding global climate change and exploring the evolution of our universe.

The 10-petaflop IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer, named "Mira," will be operational in 2012 and available to scientists from industry, academia and government research facilities around the world, said Dave Turek, vice president of Deep Computing at IBM, in an interview with eWEEK.

"Computation and supercomputing are critical to solving some of our greatest scientific challenges, like advancing clean energy and understanding the Earth's climate," Rick Stevens, associate laboratory director for computing, environment and life sciences at Argonne National Laboratory, said in a statement. "Argonne's new IBM supercomputer will help address the critical demand for complex modeling and simulation capabilities essential to improving our economic prosperity and global competitiveness."

Argonne's current supercomputer, Intrepid, is an IBM Blue Gene/P machine capable of producing more than 500 trillion calculations a second. Mira will be 20 times faster, running programs at 10 quadrillion calculations per second, or 10 petaflops, making it one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, Turek said. If every man, woman and child in the United States performed one calculation each second, it would take them almost a year to do as many calculations as Mira will do in one second, IBM said.

Meanwhile, the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility is already working with potential users as part of the "Early Science Program," which is designed to get researchers working on the most effective ways to leverage the computer's power as soon as it is installed.

Argonne and the Department of Energy have selected 16 projects from a pool of proposals on projects, ranging from reducing energy inefficiencies in transportation and developing advanced engine designs to spurring advances in energy technologies. The progress made during the Early Science Program should enable researchers to leverage Mira's computational capability to reach its developers' science goals soon after it is deployed.

In a press release, IBM said Argonne anticipates that the new supercomputer will be one of the fastest and most energy-efficient in the world, thanks to a combination of innovative chip designs and extremely efficient water-cooling. Last year, the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility won an Estar (Environmental Sustainability) award for the innovative energy-efficient cooling it designed for its current system, and Argonne researchers anticipate that Mira will be significantly more power-friendly, IBM said.

"This is a major step forward by Argonne in terms of amplifying its compute capability," Turek said.

Argonne also envisions Mira as a stepping stone to exascale-class computers that will be faster than petascale-class computers by a factor of a thousand, IBM said. Exascale computing has the potential to address a class of highly complex workloads that have been beyond our reach, not just due to their sheer size, but because of their inherent uncertainties and unpredictability-challenges like understanding the impacts of regional climate change and the design of safe nuclear reactors.

Moreover, Mira will offer an opportunity for scientists to become more familiar with the capabilities an exascale machine will offer and the programming changes it will require, Turek said. For example, scientists will have to scale their current computer codes to more than 750,000 individual computing cores, providing them preliminary experience on how scalability might be achieved on an exascale-class system with hundreds of millions of cores.

Once Mira is online, the Department of Energy's Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment and the Advanced Scientific Computing Research Leadership Computing Challenge programs will award blocks of computing time via a peer-reviewed, competitive process to researchers working on scientific challenges best addressed by the capabilities of high-performance supercomputers.

This year, IBM celebrates its Centennial, and Blue Gene is high on the company's list of achievements. Blue Gene systems have helped map the human genome, investigate medical therapies, safeguard nuclear arsenals, simulate radioactive decay, replicate brainpower, fly airplanes, pinpoint tumors, predict climate trends and identify fossil fuels. In 2009, President Obama recognized IBM and its Blue Gene family of supercomputers with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

The Blue Gene system is part of a collaboration between Argonne, IBM and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Turek said the Blue Gene system going into the Lawrence Livermore location will be a 20-petaflop machine, code-named "Sequoia." Between the two Department of Energy facilities, there will be 30 petaflops of computing power when both systems are online, Turek said.

Turek added that the Blue Gene architecture is capable of supporting more than 50 petaflops and upward of 100 petaflops of computing capacity. "It's a never-ending race against the fundamental limits of physics," he said.

Blue Gene's speed and expandability have enabled the computing industry and the scientific community to address a range of complex problems and make more informed decisions.