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May 12, 2011

Inside the National Petascale Computing Facility

Nicole Hemsoth

When the Blue Waters supercomputer opens for business at the University of Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputing Applications, it will hum away at peak performance of 10 petaflops with sustained performance of one petaflop.

Today we wanted to point to some new photographs that emerged of the inside of the National Petascale Computing Facility at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana following another round of tours.

A tourist through the new center provided some excellent new photographs that provide a sense of scope—naturally, the place is giant, however, when you see the new space for Blue Waters, you get a sense of the actual size of the system—not to mention a visual overview of some potential efficiency measure.

On that note, back in June of last year one thousand people gathered outside of the home of Blue Waters to take the first tour through the facility.  The video of the event is not particularly long but it does give a sense of scope. After all, in addition to housing Blue Waters the center will be home to a number of innovating networking and clustering marvels.

A number of visitors for the center’s Community Day took video of their tour, including the one below.

The system is to be based on IBM’s Power7 hardware and will mark a significant milestone for Big Blue as it ushers in a new, far more powerful system design. The advancements that will make Blue Waters powerful go far beyond mere processing technologies; the supercomputer will deploy innovative chip, interconnect, OS and compiler and programming developments.

As a recent NSCA description of the project noted, “substantial investments will be made by the Blue Waters partnership to enhance the scalability and performance of existing science and engineering applications and to develop new applications that take full advantage of the system.”

The description went on to note that beyond addressing some of the programming-level challenges,  “The enhanced environment will increase the productivity of application developers, system administrators, and researchers by providing an integrated toolset to use Blue Waters and analyze and control its behavior.”

The center will be home to a number of research projects, including those that will try to pinpoint the behavior of complex biological systems, find answers for what happened after the Big Bang, and find out to create advanced materials at the atomic level.  While this is only a short list for what the center will be involved with, it is expected that the arrival of this new system could bring American researchers new possibilities to achieve key research and scientific goals.

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