INL has 365th fastest supercomputer

Brad Iverson-Long//November 13, 2012

INL has 365th fastest supercomputer

Brad Iverson-Long//November 13, 2012

Photo courtesy of INL.

Idaho National Laboratory’s Fission supercomputer was one of the 100 fastest in the world just 17 months ago, but in an era of constant technological improvements, it has dropped to 365th on the latest Top500 list released Nov. 12 by researchers in Germany and the United States.

While it dropped in the rankings, the supercomputer still does the modeling and other complex functions the lab needs, and far outpaces personal computers.

The U.S. was home to half of the top 500 supercomputers, including the new top computer, the Titan at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The Titan has more than 560,000 processors, while the Fission has 12,512 and a typical laptop has just one processor.

With that extra processing power comes a higher price tag; the Titan cost $100 million and has a $9 million yearly electric bill. Officials at INL say their Fission cost a small fraction of what the Titan did.

IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center, which built a supercomputer that bested human contestants on the game show Jeopardy! in early 2011, had a supercomputer ranked 142nd on the Top500 list.

Researchers at INL use the Fission for advanced modeling and complex calculations related to energy production. One program is called the Multiphysics Object-Oriented Simulation Environment, or MOOSE. INL has other models called BISON, MARMOT, RAT and FALCON.

“Modern science relies on the combination of theory and experiment, where you do an experiment to validate the theory,” said Eric Whiting, director for INL’s Center for Advanced Modeling and Simulation.

“The supercomputer works in conjunction with experiment and theory to help scientists solve problems and answer questions,” Whiting said.

The Fission, which can perform 91 trillion calculations per second, can be used for a variety of modeling applications, including modeling durable pipes and other materials that will be inside nuclear reactors over 80 years. Modeling that on a supercomputer is quicker and perhaps safer than performing such an experiment in an actual nuclear reactor.

Whiting said that while the Fission has dropped on the fastest supercomputer list, it’s still the right size for INL.

“Ours is a very, very capable supercomputer,” he said.

Fission was built by California-based Appro International, which had the fourth most supercomputers on the list. The Top500 list is prepared twice a year by four researchers: Hans Meuer of the University of Mannheim in Germany, Erich Strohmaier and Horst Simon of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Jack Dongarra of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

Just as laptops and phones need to be replaced, so will INL’s supercomputer. Whiting said INL plans to replace its supercomputer every three years. Fission is six times as powerful as its predecessor, which was named Icestorm. Icestorm entered the Top500 list ranked 64th in 2007, but was outside the top 500 by late 2009.