Concluding a 15-week effort with NASA and Intel to build and successfully install the world's most powerful supercomputer, Silicon Graphics (NYSE: SGI) today announced that the new 10,240-processor Columbia supercomputer is fully deployed at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) facility located at Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. Unlike traditional supercomputer deployments that have taken years to become fully viable, Columbia was available to scientists throughout its installation, giving NASA and the U.S. Government an immediate and revolutionary boost in capabilities as they strive to solve some of history's most demanding scientific problems.
In a related announcement today, SGI with NASA and Intel confirmed that Columbia has achieved world record performance, even using only 16 of Columbia's 20 installed systems. Running LINPACK benchmarks, Columbia achieved sustained performance of 42.7 trillion calculations per second (teraflops), eclipsing the performance of every supercomputer operating today. (See related announcement, "NASA's Columbia Supercomputer Is World's Fastest")
The Columbia supercomputer, built from 20 SGI® Altix systems, each powered by 512 Intel Itanium 2 processors, promises to revolutionize the rate of scientific discovery at NASA. For instance, on NASA's previous supercomputers, simulations showing five years worth of changes in ocean temperatures and sea levels were taking a year to model. But using a single SGI Altix system, scientists can simulate decades of ocean circulation in just days, while producing simulations in greater detail than ever before. And the time required to assess flight characteristics of an aircraft design, which involves thousands of complex calculations, dropped from years to a single day.
"With SGI and Intel, we set out to revitalize NASA's computing capabilities, and the Columbia system has done so in a spectacular way," said Walt Brooks, division chief, Advanced Supercomputing Division, NASA. "Only days after new 512-processor systems were installed, we had scientists doing real Earth and space analysis on them. The speed and ease with which this supercomputer came together was phenomenal, and the science that already has been produced has been extraordinary."
Columbia was deployed in fewer than 120 days, with the final systems installed on Oct. 12. The history-making supercomputer also incorporates an SGI InfiniteStorage solution that gives NASA access to 440 terabytes of data, an amount 44 times larger than the entire U.S. Library of Congress print collection. During the 15-week deployment, SGI and Intel delivered 19 new systems to join NASA's existing 512-processor Altix system known as Kalpana, the first system of its size to operate under a single copy of Linux®. Meanwhile, NASA rebuilt its NAS facility while still serving government and university scientists.
NASA Secures Approval in 30 Days
To accelerate NASA's primary science missions in a timely manner, high-end computing experts from NASA centers around the country collaborated to build a business case that Brooks and his team could present to NASA headquarters, the U.S. Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, and the White House. "We completed the process end to end in only 30 days," Brooks said.
NASA's success with its 512-processor Kalpana system, first installed with SGI in November 2003, helped Brooks and his team show Washington decision makers what a revolutionary leap in capability Columbia would bring to scientists. "The Columbia Accident Investigation Board spent three months conducting analysis to seek the root cause of the accident," Brooks recalled. "If they had this new system then, it would have been possible to do this in a matter of days."
SGI and Intel Step Up
While NASA sought approval in Washington, SGI and Intel prepared to deliver a supercomputer like none other. Columbia would house 20 SGI Altix systems. Each system with 512 Intel Itanium 2 processors would operate as a single system image (SSI), a feat that only months before was heralded as a revolutionary advance in Linux computing. To keep the system's massive compute capacity efficiently utilized, it would draw data from a 440 terabyte SGI InfiniteStorage storage area network and utilize a further 800 terabytes of existing data managed by Data Migration Facility, SGI's InfiniteStorage data lifecycle management solution.
While Intel prepared to deliver thousands of Itanium 2 processors, SGI's manufacturing facility in Chippewa Falls, Wis. braced itself for a hectic summer and fall. "The thought of building a 10,240-processor system in a little over three months was something, especially since we still had to meet our normal manufacturing pace," said Dick Harkness, vice president of Manufacturing Operations, SGI. "While quite the challenge, we had every confidence that we could meet it. "
As NASA presented the Columbia concept on Capitol Hill, SGI's manufacturing facility prepared workers to adapt new processes. Manufacturing flows were completely transformed to accommodate faster, more efficient builds. SGI's factory personnel worked "40 days and 40 nights" to meet production demands, said Harkness. Assembly and QA of 512-processor Altix systems - until then a rare and time-consuming event - became second nature to factory workers.
Ready for Science in Days
Nearly every week from late June to mid-October, new Altix systems and storage arrays arrived at NAS. On-site technicians successfully had newly delivered systems up and running the same day. After testing and application software installation, the systems were ready for productive science work in less than a week.
"In some cases, a new Altix system was in production in as little as 48 hours," said Jim Taft, task lead, Terascale Applications Group, NASA. "This is starkly different from implementations of systems not based on the SGI architecture, which can take many months to bring to a reliable state and ready for science."
Japan's 5,120-processor Earth Simulator, for instance, wasn't fully usable for more than four years after inception of the project. But working with SGI engineers, NASA progressively scaled Columbia's capabilities with the installation of each new Altix system. "It's phenomenal how quickly this combined team was bringing the systems up and providing them to users to do real science," said Bill Thigpen, Columbia project manager, NASA. "We had people from throughout NASA and several universities using the first installations within a week of having them hit the floor."
"NASA's Columbia system signals a new approach to supercomputing design, one in which the most powerful computer systems can be deployed in weeks rather than many months or even years," said Earl Joseph, research vice president, High-Performance Systems practice, IDC. "By creating a supercomputing system from industry-standard components and basing it on an already available platform like SGI Altix, NASA has, with relative affordability and ease of installation, recaptured a leading position in supercomputing without resorting to a one-off system type that might have required years of development, installation and testing. Columbia represents a new breed of large scale supercomputer, one that can be replicated at any national laboratory or university."
Now that Columbia is fully operational, NASA plans to accelerate its scientific pursuits in a variety of fields: detailed hurricane predictions, global warming studies, electronic wind tunnel simulations, galaxy formation and supernova analysis, and experiments leading to safer space exploration. With 10,240 processors at their disposal, NASA scientists throughout the U.S. will be able to tackle enormous technical challenges simultaneously, thus helping to dramatically boost productivity and lead to faster discoveries.
"With the completion of the Columbia supercomputer, NASA, SGI and Intel have created a powerful national resource, one that will serve scientists who strive to unlock the mysteries of this planet and the universe in which it dwells," said SGI Chairman and CEO Bob Bishop. "NASA should be commended for the remarkable boldness that made Columbia happen. Our long-standing partnership with the Agency has triggered a new age in scientific discovery, and based on NASA's initial success it seems likely that we'll be discussing new scientific breakthroughs in the very near future."
"The launching of the Columbia system shows what's possible when government and technology leaders work together toward a goal of truly national importance," said Paul Otellini, president and COO of Intel Corporation. "While this Itanium 2 processor-based system is expected to be one of the highest performing computers ever created in the world, the real value is how this system will help accelerate scientific design and research faster than before for years to come. NASA's current missions both here on Earth and beyond are the most important ever, and Intel is proud to play a part in their success."
NASA unveiled new details of its Columbia supercomputer in a dedication ceremony today at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.
In addition to Intel Itanium 2 processors, the Columbia installation features storage technology from Brocade Communications and Engenio Information Technologies, Inc., memory technology from Dataram Corporation and Micron Technology, Inc. and interconnect technology from Voltaire.