April 28, 1999
BERKELEY, Calif. -- The U.S. Department of Energy's National Energy
Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) at Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory today (April 28) announced that it has selected
an IBM RS/6000 SP system as the center's next-generation supercomputer.
The IBM system was chosen based on its ability to handle actual
scientific codes and tests designed to ensure the computer's capability
as a full-production computing system in NERSC. These tests indicated
that the system, when fully installed, will provide four to five
times the total current computational power of NERSC, already one
of the most powerful supercomputing sites in the world. This agreement,
a fixed-price, five-year contract for $33 million, is the largest
single procurement in the 68-year history of Berkeley Lab.
"When one of our scientific research facilities takes a step like
this, it's critical that the decision meet both today's scientific
needs and the potential for even greater future demands," said Energy
Secretary Bill Richardson. "Not only will this partnership with
IBM achieve these goals, but our Berkeley Lab computing center's
expertise will help IBM improve their computers to make them even
more effective. This partnership is another example of the Department
of Energy's leadership in the field of computational science."
The new system, which will incorporate IBM's newest processor and
interconnect technology, will be installed in two phases. When completed,
the system will increase NERSC's computing capabilities by more
than 400 percent.
Phase I installation, scheduled to begin in June 1999, will consist
of an RS/6000 SP with 304 of the two-CPU POWER3 SMP nodes that were
recently announced by IBM. This system will be the first implementation
of the POWER3 microprocessor, with two processors per node. The
64-bit POWER3 can perform up to two billion operations per second
and is more than twice as powerful as its predecessor. In all, Phase
I will have 512 processors for computing, 256 gigabytes of memory
and 10 terabytes of disk storage for scientific computing. The system
will have a peak performance of 410 gigaflops, or 410 billion calculations
Phase II, slated for installation no later than December 2000,
will consist of 152 16-CPU POWER3+ SMP nodes, utilizing an enhanced
POWER3 microprocessor. The entire system will have 2,048 processors
dedicated to large-scale scientific computing. The system will have
a peak performance capability of more than 3 teraflops, or 3 trillion
calculations per second.
"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 procurement
effort. "That's the real measure of performance in our view."
As part of the purchase contract, NERSC will work with IBM to develop
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 have agreed to develop and test
a "SUPER" (System Utilization Performance Effectiveness Rating)
benchmark for the new computer. This set of tests will measure how
well the SP delivers scientific work under a realistic workload.
"Theoretical computer speed is comparable to the top end of a car's
speedometer, and while your car might be able to do 150 mph on the
open road, you're really more interested in how it will carry out
your day-to-day driving chores," Kramer said. "While we anticipate
that most of our users will appreciate the new machine's high speed
capability, our main concern is that they have the computing resources
they need, when they need it. This contract ensures the system will
live up to NERSC's standards for performance and reliability."
The SP is a highly scalable system made up of building blocks called
SMP nodes. This architecture will allow NERSC users to increase
the size of their computations and make the results more meaningful.
For example, one area of research utilizing NERSC's computers is
creating accurate models of materials, such as magnets. More powerful
computers allow scientists to create larger models, of 1,000 atoms
or more, and gain a better understanding of how magnetic fields
are affected by temperature. Such research has applications in fields
ranging from computer disk drives to power generation.
"The continuing partnership between IBM and the Department of Energy
is further testimony to what can be accomplished when two leaders
in the field of computational science push the boundaries of conventional
thinking," said Rodney Adkins, general manager, IBM RS/6000. "I
can't think of anything more noble than being a part of making lives
better, whether it's through helping design cleaner engines or increasing
life-saving knowledge about our environment through climate modeling.
As always, the knowledge we gain from this initiative will also
benefit our commercial customers around the world through powerful
The SP's architecture will also allow NERSC to run a variety of
different-sized computations simultaneously, thereby providing faster
turnaround of results for users across the country.
NERSC provides high-performance scientific computing and data storage
resources to about 2,500 researchers at national laboratories, 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's seven
supercomputers, the largest of which is currently a 640-processor
Cray T3E-900, are utilized 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and
are up and running more than 95 percent of the time, so the computers
must be both highly reliable and high-speed.
Established in 1974 as the Controlled Thermonuclear Research Computer
Center to provide computing cycles to fusion energy researchers,
NERSC's first computer was a borrowed Control Data Corp. 6600. Considered
a computing powerhouse at the time, the 6600's overall performance
was two-and-a-half million calculations per second.
NERSC's new machine will be 1.2 million times more powerful. The
new system will also be 13,000 times more cost-effective.
Additional information about NERSC is available at www.nersc.gov.
Berkeley Lab (www.lbl.gov) conducts
unclassified research and is managed by the University of California
for the Department of Energy.