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January 12, 2007

Government Expands HPC Giveaway Program

Michael Feldman

On Monday, 45 industry and government projects received a late Christmas gift as the U.S. Department of Energy announced it would be giving away 95 million processor-hours on some of the most powerful supercomputers in the world. The DOE announced its 2007 INCITE (Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment) awards at the Council on Competitiveness in Washington, DC.

This year's supercomputer allocations represent a substantial expansion of the popular DOE program. The 2007 allocations represent more than 4 times as many processor-hours than were awarded last year and 19 times as many processor-hours than were awarded for the original INCITE allocations in 2004.

The number of commercial companies in the program also expanded. Corning Inc., Fluent Inc. (in conjunction with General Motors), and Procter and Gamble joined last year's industry recipients of DreamWorks Animation, Pratt & Whitney, The Boeing Co., and General Atomics. Although the 5.5 million processor-hours awarded to the commercial firms is a small portion of the 95 million total, it exceeds the 5 million processor-hours allocated for the whole program when it began in 2004.

Mike Garrett, director, Airplane Performance Boeing Commercial Airplanes, noted that supercomputing is used to develop all of the products at Boeing: space vehicles, fighters and commercial transport vehicles. He said the computer simulations are done up-front in the design process with much greater fidelity than in the past. It has allowed the company to drastically reduce the engineering development cycle.

“As an example, when developing the 767 in 1980, we built and tested 77 wings using our wind tunnels around the world,” explained Garrett. “Today on the 787 Dreamliner, we developed only 11 wings to be tested — a reduction factor of 7 — and we've done it faster and with less people. And the correlation between the wind tunnel results and our computer model has been getting better and better.”

The INCITE program gives Boeing access to greater levels of supercomputing than they have in-house. The company will be able to use the Cray systems at ORNL to experiment with new tools and methods and then apply them to their own systems for developing commercial products.

For 2007, Boeing has two main objectives for the new INCITE supercomputer allocations:

1. Improve and validate their predictive methods using CFD tools, and determine how they can use those tools to adjust their structural models. These predictive methods will be employed for simulations that combine both the structural response of the wing and the airflow effects.

2. Assessing how an airplane performs when an engine's fan blade is lost during flight. This is a critical safety issue that must be addressed for every new engine design.

Proctor and Gamble (P&G), one of the new INCITE recipients, has used high performance computing to formulate a variety of household goods and food products, including such common items as Pringles potato chips, Pampers diapers and the containers for Folger's coffee.

According to Tom Lange, director of Modeling and Simulation at P&G, the INCITE award will be used to model the behavior of aqueous foams used in a variety of surfactant-containing products. Procter and Gamble has been given 1.1 million processor-hours on Argonne National Laboratory's IBM Blue Gene/L to help understand the molecular mechanisms of bubble formation and stability within surfactant systems. The results can be used to develop more effective and more environmentally friendly sudsing detergents, fire control chemicals and chemicals for hazardous cleanup and remediation.

“It's the type of computing problem we would never hope to be able to do by ourselves,” said Lange. “It would take all of the computing power I have at Procter and Gamble months to get at this problem. The opportunity to get at it with a world class machine at Argonne — to be able to have a sufficient resource to dedicate to this one calculation — is just extremely exciting.”

By sharing the relatively abundant supercomputing capacity of the U.S. national labs, select commercial and government organizations are able to get access to elite computing resources they would normally never be able to afford. It's one of the ways the government is able to tip the scales in favor of U.S.-based companies and research institutions. According to Under Secretary for Science Raymond Orbach, the country's leadership in HPC has grown since the inception of the INCITE program in 2004, when the top computers were much less powerful than the current systems at the DOE labs.
 
“[Back then] we were dealing with computers whose peak speeds were at least one order of magnitude less than what we have today,” said Orbach. “And at the time when people talked about a petaflop — which is the measure of speed that we all are striving for — I thought it was just poppycock. I wouldn't have to worry about that while I was in the Department of Energy. If the budget proposals of the Department of Energy are realized, we will have a petaflop in 2008. It will give the United States leadership over every other country in the world.”

For more information about the supercomputing allocations, see the 2007 DOE INCITE Program special section in this week's issue of HPCwire.

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As always, comments about HPCwire are welcomed and encouraged. Write to me, Michael Feldman, at editor@hpcwire.com.