A Cray XT high-performance computing system at the Department
of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory is the world's fastest supercomputer
for science. The annual ranking of the world's top 500 computers (www.top500.org)
will be released Tuesday in Austin at an annual international supercomputing
Supercomputing speeds shot skyward in 2008 as Oak Ridge National Laboratory
's Cray XT5 Jaguar supercomputer attained a peak performance of 1.64 petaflops, a number that seemed astronomical only a few years ago. Credit: ORNL
The Cray XT, called Jaguar, has a peak performance of 1.64 petaflops, (quadrillion
floating point operations, or calculations) per second, incorporating a 1.382
petaflops XT5 and 266 teraflops XT4 systems. Each component of the Jaguar system
is separately ranked second and eighth on the current list of Top500 supercomputers
in the world.
"This accomplishment is the culmination of our vision to regain leadership
in high performance computing and harness its potential for scientific investigation,"
said Undersecretary for Science Raymond L. Orbach. "I am especially gratified
because we make this machine available to the entire scientific community through
an open and transparent process that has resulted in spectacular scientific
results ranging from the human brain to the global climate to the origins of
Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason said the real value of the
new machine will be measured by the scientific breakthroughs that will now be
"We are proud to be home to the world's most powerful computer dedicated
to open science, but we are more excited about the ability of Oak Ridge and
the Department of Energy to take a leading role in finding solutions to scientific
challenges such as new energy sources and climate change," Mason said.
In June, a DOE supercomputer named Roadrunner at Los Alamos National Laboratory
was the first to break the petascale barrier. Built with advanced IBM Cell processors,
Roadrunner helps ensure the reliability of America's nuclear weapons stockpile.
Beginning as a 26-teraflop system in 2005, Oak Ridge embarked upon a three-year
series of aggressive upgrades designed to make their machine the world's most
powerful computing system. The Cray XT was upgraded to 119 teraflops in 2006
and 263 teraflops in 2007. In 2008, with approximately 182,000 AMD Opteron processing
cores, the new 1.64-petaflop system is more than 60 times larger than its original
Thomas Zacharia, the laboratory's associate director for Computing and Computational
Sciences, says petascale machines like Jaguar help advance critical scientific
application areas by enabling researchers to get answers faster and explore
complex, dynamic systems. In a matter of few days, Jaguar has already run scientific
applications ranging from materials to combustion on the entire system, sustaining
petaflops performance on multiple applications. A calculation that once took
months can now be done in minutes. A 2008 report from the DOE Office of Science,
America's largest funder of basic physical science programs at universities
and government laboratories, said six of the top ten recent scientific advancements
in computational science used Jaguar to provide unprecedented insight into supernovas,
combustion, fusion, superconductivity, dark matter, and mathematics.
The DOE's Office of Science makes Jaguar available to scientists in academia,
industry, and government to tackle the world's most complicated projects. Through
the agency's Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment
program, which allocates the supercomputer's resources through a peer-reviewed
proposal system, researchers were allocated more than 140 million processor
hours to 30 projects.
To date the computer simulations on Jaguar have focused largely on addressing
new forms of energy and understanding the impact on climate resulting from energy
use. For example, INCITE projects have simulated enzymatic breakdown of cellulose
to make production of biofuels commercially viable as well as coal gasification
processes to help industry design near-zero-emission plants. Combustion scientists
have studied how fuel burns—important for fuel-efficient, low-emission
engines. Computer models have helped physicists use radio waves to heat and
control ionized fuel in a fusion reactor. Similarly, engineers have designed
materials to recover energy escaping from vehicle tailpipes. Simulation insights
have enabled biologists to design new drugs to thwart Alzheimer's fibrils and
engineer the workings of cellular ion channels to detoxify industrial wastes.
Jaguar's superlative speed is matched by substantial memory that allows scientists
to solve complex problems, sizeable disk space for storing massive amounts of
data, and unmatched speed to read and write files. High-speed Internet connections
enable users from around the world to access the machine, and high-end visualization
helps them make sense of the avalanche of data Jaguar generates.
Twice a year, the TOP500 list ranks powerful computing systems on their speed
in running a benchmark program called HPL, for High-Performance Linpack. In
June of 2007, Jaguar solved the largest HPL challenge ever—a matrix problem
with nearly 5 trillion elements. The achievement highlights Jaguar's skill in
balancing processor speed and system memory.