NSF-funded terascale computing system ranks as world's second fastest

November 09, 2001

According to a new ranking of the world's fastest computers, the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Terascale Computing System (TCS) is the second most powerful. No other system for university-based research can match its peak of 6 trillion calculations per second, known as "teraflops." The TCS reached more than four teraflops when running Linpack, a standard software test for comparing supercomputers.

The Top 500 Supercomputer Sites (http://www.top500.org/) twice per year evaluates systems from across the world using Linpack benchmark software. The TCS performed computations on a complex set of linear equations faster than any other computer that is dedicated to academic research.

The TCS is based at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC), which teamed with Compaq Corporation to develop and implement the system with a $45-million award from NSF. Through a process of competitive proposals, U.S. scientists and engineers use the TCS to study a broad range of topics that includes earthquakes, storms, climate, astrophysics and molecular biology.

"We congratulate the PSC leadership on this remarkable performance of the TCS so soon after installation," said Rich Hirsh, director of the NSF Division for Advanced Computational Infrastructure and Research. "Long-term, fundamental research across all science and engineering disciplines benefit from the TCS, which is a key part of NSF's strategy for a nationwide 'Cyber-Infrastructure' to accommodate the massive amounts of data being generated by simulations and land- or space-based instrumentation."

"Our analysis shows the TCS is the world's most powerful computer for academics," said Jack Dongarra, professor of computer science at the University of Tennessee and co-founder of the Top 500 site. "The supercomputer rankings have recently been dominated by systems used for classified research, so the Pittsburgh system represents an important new capability for university scientists and engineers."

The TCS deploys 3,000 Compaq Alpha EV68 processors, each of which operates at one gigahertz (1,000 megahertz). The processors are configured in 750 groups of four, with each such node having four gigabytes of memory -- for a total of three terabytes of RAM. The TCS uses a version of the UNIX operating system called Tru64. Researchers have access to a large library of software tools, many of which were developed over the past decade with NSF funding.

"The TCS will have a huge impact in fields such as biomedicine," said PSC scientific directors Michael Levine and Ralph Roskies in a joint statement. "Such advanced computers will enable real-time manipulation of raw data from MRI scans, for example. And in geology, high-end computer simulations are helping us understand seismology and geomagnetism. We're also on the verge of reliable storm-scale weather forecasts, which would not be possible without terascale computing."

In August 2001, NSF awarded a second terascale system to a consortium led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of California at San Diego, the California Institute of Technology and Argonne National Laboratory. The first components of that "TeraGrid" facility will come on-line in 2002, with completion expected in 2003.
NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of about $4.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states, through grants to about 1,800 universities and institutions nationwide. Each year, NSF receives about 30,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 10,000 new funding awards.

The PSC was established in 1986 and is supported by several federal agencies, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and private industry.

For more about TCS, see http://www.psc.edu/publicinfo/terascale/bigiron.html

National Science Foundation
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