March 28, 2000
BERKELEY, Calif. -- The U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy
Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory today announced that the first phase of its
new IBM RS/6000 SP system has met a demanding set of performance
benchmarks and is now ready for full use by researchers across the
As part of the acceptance testing, a select group of computational
scientists at national laboratories and universities were given
early access to the machine to thoroughly test the entire system.
Those researchers noted the high performance and ability to scale
problems on the SP, which is providing useful scientific results
in such areas as climate modeling, materials science and physics
"The performance of this supercomputer -- and the fact that DOE-supported
scientists are already putting it to productive use -- demonstrates
the Department of Energy's continuing leadership in computational
science," said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. "Once the full
machine is installed at NERSC later this year, thousands of researchers
from universities and DOE laboratories will have access to the most
powerful unclassified computing center on earth. They'll use this
incredible resource to develop powerful new simulation tools for
modeling and understanding human health, for developing new sources
of energy, protecting our environment and understanding fundamental
aspects of the physical world."
A key area of research by NERSC users is simulating combustion,
with the goal of designing automobile engines which use less gasoline
and emit fewer pollutants -- as well as eventually saving up to
$31 billion annually in energy-associated costs in the United States.
The interior of an internal combustion engine is a hot, dirty and
potentially dangerous environment for conducting experiments --
and building and modifying engine components for testing is both
time-consuming and expensive. With accurate combustion modeling
on supercomputers like the IBM SP, scientists can study the entire
process and make incremental changes in the model system to test
new ideas for studying internal combustion engines, as well as industrial
boilers used to generate electricity. Besides saving energy, improvements
in combustion could reduce annual emissions of carbon dioxide by
505 million tons.
The first phase of NERSC's IBM system consists of an RS/6000 SP
with 304 POWER3 SMP nodes with two processors per node. In all,
Phase I has 512 processors for computing, 256 gigabytes of memory
and 10 terabytes of disk storage for scientific computing. The system
has a peak performance of 410 gigaflop/s, or 410 billion calculations
Phase II, slated for installation no later than December 2000,
will consist of 152 16- processor SMP nodes, utilizing an enhanced
POWER3 microprocessor. The entire system will have 2,048 processors
dedicated to large-scale scientific computing and another 384 processors
devoted to system tasks. The system will have a peak performance
capability of more than 3 teraflop/s, or 3 trillion calculations
per second. The second phase will be installed in Berkeley Lab's
new scientific facility currently under construction in Oakland,
"We are committed to providing NERSC's national user community
with the most advanced high-performance computing resources, and
this partnership between Berkeley Lab and IBM ensures that the system
met the very demanding performance criteria we defined at the outset,"
said Berkeley Lab Director Charles Shank. "Our priority is to ensure
that the system will be capable of handling the day-in and day-out
large-scale scientific computing needs of scientists across the
NERSC serves 2,500 researchers at national labs, universities and
industry across the nation who are working on Department of Energy-funded
programs such as combustion, climate modeling, fusion energy, materials
science and computational biology. NERSC is also home to a Cray
T3E-900 supercomputer, three Cray SV1 computers and a Cray J90se
machine and provides its users with a High Performance Storage System
capable of storing 750 terabytes of data.
Here are some early results from users who were allowed access
to test NERSC's IBM RS/6000 SP as part of the acceptance testing:
- Researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research
in Colorado ran the Parallel Climate Model (PCM), which simulates
interaction of the atmosphere, ocean and sea ice, to evaluate
changes in the earth's climate due to human activities, as compared/opposed
to natural climate variability. To do this, the group plans to
integrate climate data from several centuries, a process which
will require thousands of processing hours on the new computer.
- A scientist from Ames Laboratory in Iowa used the computer to
help answer a fundamental question in semiconductor surface research
-- how different materials behave on the surface of silicon. Calculations
performed on the supercomputer provided a detailed atomistic picture
which is difficult to obtain from experiments and complements
the experimental studies in obtaining a full understanding of
this fundamental question. The scientist noted that the Phase
I IBM SP ran the code 15 percent faster than NERSC's current Cray
T3E supercomputer, and NERSC's Phase II IBM will be more than
seven times faster than Phase I.
- Physicists at Argonne and Los Alamos national labs and the University
of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, used the IBM SP to calculate the
properties of nuclei (up to 9 protons and neutrons) with realistic
interactions using quantum Monte Carlo techniques, which find
approximate solutions to problems by means of random sampling.
The method uses the best available models of two- and three-nucleon
interactions and gives results accurate to 1 percent for these
forces. Some of their new scientific results have already been
submitted for publication in a physics journal.
- Climate researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have used
the IBM system to determine the best method of running a massively
parallel version of the Community Climate Model (CCM). The information
they compile will be used in designing future versions of the
CCM and other components of the DOE coupled climate models.
As part of the purchase contract, NERSC is working with IBM to
develop and implement improved ways to make large-scale systems
effective platforms for scientific discovery. One step is developing
computer-utilization benchmarks and methods to assess and improve
the effectiveness of the SP system in a production environment.
While the theoretical peak performance of supercomputers can be
amazingly fast, that capability does not always represent real-world
computing. To ensure that the new NERSC system is well suited to
the workaday world, NERSC and IBM developed an Effective System
Performance (ESP) benchmark for the new computer. This set of tests
will measure how well the SP delivers scientific work under a realistic
"Although some computing centers describe their system's performance
in terms of theoretical peak computing, we look at our systems in
terms of how much they can enhance our clients' ability to solve
large-scale scientific problems," said Bill Kramer, head of NERSC's
High Performance Computing Department and leader of the IBM procurement
effort. "That's the real measure of performance in our view."
During the acceptance period, NERSC and IBM worked to implement
new functionality that improves the performance of the system for
large-scale science in a way that will minimize the transition for
scientists to the Phase II system. For example, NERSC is using IBM's
new Global Parallel File System, GPFS, for all 10 terabytes of user
"NERSC is the first site to commit to use GPFS for all its data
and to such a scale," Kramer said. "By wisely introducing new technology
at this time, NERSC will provide higher performance overall, as
well as making the move to the full system easier for the user community.
Furthermore, by working with IBM to implement this functionality
early and on a large system, NERSC continues to provide leadership
in large-scale computing to the entire community."
Additional information about NERSC is available at www.nersc.gov.
Berkeley Lab (www.lbl.gov) conducts
only unclassified research and is managed by the University of California
for the U.S. Department of Energy.