Mountain View Voice

- August 27, 2010

Bigger is better for NASA supercomputer

In the world of supercomputing, it seems that size really does matter — and in that respect, NASA's Ames Research Center certainly has something to boast about. The machine at Ames known as Pleiades garnered the No. 6 spot on the Top 500 list of the world's most powerful computers, said NASA officials.

Operating with Intel and SGI technology, Pleiades has nearly 82,000 cores; that's about the equivalent of 41,000 MacBook Pros. The machine requires 24 miles of cable, according to a NASA press release.

The announcement was made on June 1 at the 25th International Supercomputing Conference in Hamburg, Germany.

An institution like NASA — which deals with complex mathematical models and huge data sets — counts on a supercomputer like Pleiades to be fast and power-efficient. Since earning its sixth-in-the-world rank in November 2009, engineers at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) division at Ames have doubled Pleiades' capacity.

"The expanded system is already being fully utilized and is hammering away at full throttle to successfully meet the demand of scientists and engineers across NASA," said William Thigpen, chief of the Systems and Engineering Branch in the NAS Division.

Pleiades solves problems in what NASA calls "four key mission areas," which include aeronautics, exploration systems, science, and space operations. Specifically, Pleiades produces math- and physics-based models of space vehicles, climate patterns, and dark matter and galaxy evolution. Because of the huge scale of these models, NASA requires a computer that's big enough to be time-efficient. It's the bottleneck effect, only with ones and zeros.

"The NAS can now deliver twice the sustained computing capability to NASA scientists, which reduces simulation turnaround times and supports higher-fidelity models," said Bob Ciotti, supercomputing systems lead in the NAS Division at Ames.

The system was named for the Pleiades star cluster.

— EMILY HAMILTON

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