Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Photo of Dona Crawford

Dona Crawford

Associate Director for Computation

Maintaining the Nation’s Lead in High-Performance Computing

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has a long and distinguished history in high-performance computing (HPC). Our Laboratory has pushed the state of the art in computing to fulfill missions in national security as well as the basic science underpinning all Laboratory research and development. HPC capabilities enable progress in a diverse set of applications, from elucidating the structure of proteins to optimally operating a smart electric grid to understanding the complex operation of nuclear weapons.

This tradition of innovation continues today. We are preparing to achieve another major advance in HPC to make our current petascale (1015 operations per second) physics and engineering simulation models more predictive, to sustain our nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile without the need for full-scale underground nuclear tests. At the same time, our Laboratory is expanding partnerships in HPC to invigorate our programs through collaborative research and to enable the U.S. economy to benefit from the full potential of HPC.

The partnerships being forged at the High Performance Computing Innovation Center (HPCIC), sited at the Livermore Valley Open Campus (LVOC), are crucial not only to our missions but also to our ability to attract the top scientific talent needed to keep our Laboratory on the cutting edge. New exploratory areas include approaches to extracting information from big data coupled with large-scale constitutive modeling and simulation. These efforts greatly benefit U.S. industry and academia, enabling scientific discovery and the development of new products and materials. The results of these interactions feed back into mission simulations, bolster the nation’s overall economic competitiveness in the world marketplace, and maintain the nation’s global lead in HPC. Therefore, the diffusion of HPC from the Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratories to a broader community is a priority. As discussed in A Hub for Collaborative Innovation, HPCIC is designed as a hub to stimulate such HPC innovation, providing a research park–like environment for unclassified research and development.

The next major advance in the Laboratory’s HPC foundations is a system called Sierra, which will be about five to seven times more powerful than today’s most advanced machines. In November 2014, DOE announced the signing of a contract with IBM, in partnership with NVIDIA and Mellanox, to deliver this next-generation supercomputer to Livermore beginning in 2017. It will be used for the most demanding scientific and national-security simulation and modeling applications and will enable continued U.S. leadership in computing. Acquired by the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) Advanced Simulation and Computing program, Sierra will serve as an NNSA-wide resource for stockpile stewardship. Procurement of the system is part of the DOE-sponsored Collaboration of Oak Ridge, Argonne, and Livermore to accelerate the development of advanced HPC.

Sierra is an important step toward exascale (1018 operations per second) computing, and its design presents tremendous technical challenges and opportunities. Specific issues include new programming models, the reliability and resilience of the hundreds of thousands of components, and the cost associated with data movement on new memory hierarchies, which need many megawatts of electric power. Resolving this energy issue requires innovations in both hardware and software. The article Gearing Up for the Next Challenge in High-Performance Computing describes Sierra and other HPC architecture options that are being considered. Livermore is deeply engaged because, to the extent possible, computer architectures must be designed with software requirements in mind—and in this case, the requirements are some of the world’s most demanding and are of utmost importance to U.S. security.

HPC has been a central strength of the Laboratory—vital to mission success and a source for scientific discovery and technological innovation. We are taking the next big step to advance HPC and working to make certain that the nation benefits broadly from it.