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October 2001

The Laboratory
in the News

Commentary by
Dona Crawford

Sharing the Power
of Supercomputers

Further Developments in

Simulating How
the Wind Blows

E.O. Lawrence





Dona L. Crawford, Associate Director, Computation

Dona Crawford
Associate Director,

Supercomputing Resources Are Vital to Advancing Science

FOR several decades, the Computation Directorate has provided leading-edge computational capability to support the Laboratory’s missions and programs. Increasingly, these programs rely on computer simulations to guide scientific discovery and engineering development. Our goal in Computation is to provide and, where necessary, develop the computational and information technologies that enable Laboratory programs to fully realize the promise of scientific simulations, especially those generated with three-dimensional models.
More and more, advanced simulations require the power of parallel supercomputers that employ hundreds or even thousands of processors working in tandem. The most advanced parallel supercomputers are those developed for the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI), an important element of the nation’s Stockpile Stewardship Program to assure the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Last year, Livermore installed the world’s most powerful supercomputer, the 12-teraops (trillion operations per second) ASCI White system manufactured by IBM.
In the mid-1990s, Livermore launched a bold initiative to make available to all unclassified researchers a computing environment similar to that pioneered by ASCI. This effort, described in the article beginning on p. 4, is called the Multiprogrammatic and Institutional Computing (M&IC) Initiative and represents a strong partnership between the Laboratory and its research programs. We launched this initiative because desktop computers, while remarkably capable compared to their predecessors of just a few years ago, do not provide the computational power of centralized systems, which is needed for simulations of the highest resolution.
As the article details, the M&IC Initiative has sponsored the acquisition of increasingly powerful platforms, such as the TeraCluster2000 supercomputer manufactured by Compaq Computer Corporation. This acquisition benefited from a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement between Compaq and the Laboratory. M&IC has also made it possible to access limited, unclassified portions of our ASCI supercomputing platforms made by IBM. Other resources include a number of smaller machines for numerous smaller simulation runs.
Hardware is only part of the story. We’ve made a strong effort to provide tools and techniques for analyzing and improving the performance of simulation codes on massively parallel computers and new ways to visualize the large amounts of data that are routinely generated. The capabilities allow researchers to plan and efficiently run their simulations. We’ve also forged productive partnerships with leading equipment makers such as IBM and Compaq, and we maintain strong interactions with the academic scientific computing community to stay abreast of this rapidly evolving field.
The new computational resources are enabling Livermore scientists to conduct unclassified simulations on a scale that used to be considered impossible. The simulations include, to name a few, exploring the interiors of stars, analyzing the response of materials to extreme pressures and temperatures, studying the consequences of global warming and climate change, understanding the mechanisms of genes and proteins, and investigating the effects of seismic forces on structures. Such simulations, done at unprecedented resolution, are leading to important new discoveries and insights.
As a result of increasing demand, we are considering new options to strengthen our unclassified computing resources and make them even more cost-effective. We’re confident that Livermore will continue its long history of preeminence in providing leading-edge computational capability to its missions and programs.


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UCRL-52000-01-10 | November 15, 2001