U.S. Energy lab nabs 10-petaflop supercomputer for research

The U.S. Department of Energy today said it would use IBM's 10-petaflop Blue Gene supercomputer to help researchers design ultra-efficient electric car batteries, understand global climate change and dig up space exploration mysteries.

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The 10-petaflop IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer, known as "Mira", will be operational in the DoE's Argonne National Laboratory by 2012 and the lab said it anticipates the new supercomputer will be one of the fastest and most energy efficient supercomputers in the world thanks to a combination of new chip designs and efficient water cooling.

Mira will also let scientists become more familiar with the capabilities an exascale machine will offer and the programming changes it will require, IBM stated. 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, IBM said.

Likely research for Mira will include modeling tropical storm paths, biomass conversion techniques, aerodynamic simulations and nanoparticle catalysts for energy--related chemical reactions.

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Mira is just one of the DoE's expanding supercomputing sites. Last fall the DoE awarded a massive amount of its supercomputing time to 57 research projects looking at everything from biofuels and climate change to nuclear power and lithium air batteries.

The DoE awarded time on its Cray XT5 "Jaguar" at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the IBM Blue Gene/P "Intrepid" at Argonne National Laboratory. Jaguar's computational capacity is roughly equivalent to 109,000 laptops all working together to solve the same problem. Intrepid is roughly equivalent to 26,000 laptops, the DoE stated.

The DoE said the 1.7 billion processor hours are its largest total award ever - and let researchers use powerful computer simulations to perform virtual experiments that in most cases would be impossible or impractical in the natural world.

Mira is likely to take on some of the same application development as the Jaguar system. Those include looking at developing hydrogen as alternative fuel; modeling nuclear reactors for future electrical power and developing lithium air batteries (a project IBM has been fully developing as well).

According to an IDG News Service story, by 2012 Mira will be one of three U.S. IBM systems capable of 10 petaflops or greater. IBM is also ramping up production of another supercomputer for the DoE's Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL), a 20-petaflop model to be called Sequoia. And it is also building the 10-petaflop Blue Waters system for the NSF-funded University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

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