We've Got the Power

We’ve Got the Power

UT’s new supercomputer is one of the world’s fastest after just a few months in operation. In June, UT’s Kraken ranked 57th in the “Top500” list. Further upgrades that were to be made after the ranking was released were expected to power Kraken to a spot among the world’s top 10. Kraken has grown–quickly–out of a $65-million National Science Foundation grant to UT. At the time the grant was announced, President John Petersen called it “a major national win that places the university in the upper echelon of supercomputing capability.” How right he was.

The supercomputer is located at the National Institute for Computational Sciences, a state-funded facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Petersen says the grant affirms the “tremendous capability” of the UT-Oak Ridge partnership.

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen gave his vote of confidence to the joint success of UT and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

“I’ve long believed the University of Tennessee has the potential to be a world-class research institution, and this is just the latest in a series of successes by UT and its partners in Oak Ridge that tells me others agree,” the governor said. “I’m pleased to see this project come to the National Institute for Computational Sciences and proud of the state’s role in supporting the innovative projects it houses.” The grant also positions UT to lead a nationwide partnership to put the supercomputer to use (see “The Players”).

The UT-Oak Ridge partnership is a model for how American competitiveness works, says David Millhorn, UT’s executive vice-president.

“We’re bringing together some of the best and brightest researchers in science and equipping them with some of the most powerful and technologically advanced tools available in the world,” Millhorn says.

The system is being built and deployed in partnership with Cray and AMD. It will be capable of nearly a quadrillion (that’s a million billion) calculations a second (1 petaflop).

Climate figures to be a key focus of Kraken’s research potential. As climate change continues to gain prominence in both the policy and the scientific arenas, such powerful systems as Kraken and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Jaguar will take the lead in climate simulations. UT’s new supercomputer also will enable:

  • astrophysicists to move toward realistic simulations of supernova formation, galaxy evolution, and black hole mergers;
  • earth scientists to perform high-resolution simulations of the earth’s interior and enhance understanding of the planet’s evolution; and
  • materials scientists to design better materials with useful properties.

Research in such fields as chemistry, biochemistry, particle physics, engineering, and computer science also will benefit.

Thomas Zacharia, UT vice-president for science and technology, led the successful grant process. He is also ORNL associate lab director for computing and computational sciences.

“Researchers need increasingly powerful computing resources if they are to deliver the breakthroughs that society demands in climate science, energy research, and other fields. This award will guarantee that we are able to deliver those resources,” Zacharia says. The award includes $30-million for computer hardware and $35-million toward operation of the system during the next 5 years.

Peter Ungaro, president and CEO of Cray, says as the system is upgraded to become one of the largest supercomputers in the world, he foresees far-reaching benefits.

“This system will enable researchers to work toward achieving the top industry advancements and scientific breakthroughs of our day.”

UT & Oak Ridge: Together in Research

The UT-Oak Ridge partnership shares four new joint institutes:

  • National Institute for Computational Sciences – Home to the new supercomputer and the first state-owned building ever built on a national laboratory campus
  • Joint Institute for Advanced Materials – A $45-million facility to be built on the Cherokee Farms campus at Knoxville
  • Joint Institute for Biological Sciences – An $11.8-million facility on the ORNL campus that will be home to the Department of Energy’s new Bioenergy Science Center, a $125-million research endeavor shared among ORNL, UT, and other partners
  • Joint Institute for Neutron Sciences – To be built adjacent to the Spallation Neutron Source at ORNL

The Players

The National Institute for Computational Sciences will facilitate use of the new supercomputer. UT will lead the partnership, which also includes these organizations:

  • Universities–Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Louisiana State, North Carolina State, Rice, Vanderbilt, Houston, Oklahoma, Virginia, and Virginia Tech
  • National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Oak Ridge National Laboratory
  • Texas Advanced Computing Center
  • Oak Ridge Associated Universities
  • Industrial partners Cray and AMD

The “Top500”

UT’s Dr. Jack Dongarra, along with colleagues, releases the “Top500” list of the world’s fastest computers semiannually. As computers perform at faster and faster speeds, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a spot on the list. In fact, the slowest computer on the current list would have ranked in the top 200 last November!

“As high-performance computing takes an increasingly prominent role in various fields of scientific research, the demand for bigger and faster machines will continue, says Dongarra, who heads UT’s Innovative Computing Laboratory. Dongarra’s colleagues in compiling the list are at the University of Mannheim and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

See video about UT’s largest-ever research grant at www.tennessee.edu/system/news/nsf/.