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February 14, 2012

HECToR’s New Blue Brother

Robert Gelber

Since its founding at the University of Edinburgh in 1990, the mission of the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Center (EPCC) has been to accelerate the use of parallel computing in a variety of research and industries. EPCC’s facilities have been utilized in areas of research ranging from aerospace and transportation to medical research and business data analytics.

The current claim to fame at EPCC is a supercomputer named HECToR (High End Computing Terascale Resources), which serves the UK academic community. The system is housed at the University of Edinburgh’s Advanced Computing Facility and is used by UK’s best and the brightest in areas such as genomic analysis, materials chemistry, computational fluid dynamics, and heart modeling.

HECToR started it’s life in 2008 as a 59-teraflop Cray XT4. Since then, the machine has gone through a number of iterations, and in its most recent upgrade to an XE6 has attained upwards of 800 teraflops. As such, it is currently represents the swiftest supercomputer in the UK.

HECToR now has to share that honor with its new blue brother though. Yesterday, the EPCC announced that, along with the Phase 3 upgrade to HECToR, it has installed an IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer (No word yet on any nicknames to be given to the new blue super). The new system is said to match the Cray-built HECToR machine in floppability.

It appears as though the decision to go with the Blue Gene/Q had a lot to do with energy efficiency, rather than just raw processing power. The reigning green supercomputer champ on the current Green500 list is a Q machine.  In fact, Blue Gene/Q captured the first four positions on the list. Three of those are taking up residence at IBM facilities; the fourth is an 838-teraflop production system owned by US Department of Energy and housed at Lawrence Livermore.

The new Blue Gene/Q at EPCC represents the second production system of its kind in the world and the first in Europe. Later this year, EPCC plans to push the new Q past the 1 petaflops mark — 1.26 petaflops to be exact.

EPCC has put together a nice video describing the two new machines and some of the science applications they will be crunching on: