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June 27, 2013

US Army Opens New Supercomputer Center Near Former ENIAC Site

Alex Woodie

The US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) took the wraps off a new supercomputing center last week that will be used to advance the service’s war-fighting capability. Two HPC systems have been installed at the ARL Supercomputing Center at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, which was the home of ENIAC, the world’s first general-purpose electronic computer.

It goes without saying that the two iDataPlex systems at the ARL Supercomputing Center have vastly more processing capacity than ENIAC, which was installed by the Army at APG in 1946 to do ballistics calculations. Whereas the new Army’s new supercomputers have the capability to process trillions of floating-point operations per second, or teraflops, ENIAC could manage hundreds per second.

Two Intel Xeon-based supercomputers from IBM will be at the heart of the new ARL Supercomputing Center. They include Pershing, which has 20,160 cores and is rated at 350 teraflops on the LINPACK test, and Hercules, which has 17,472 cores and is rated at 304 teraflops. Pershing debuted on the Top 500 list at number 62 in November 2012 and fell to number 78 this June, while Hercules debuted at number 81 in November 2012 and fell to number 94 in the latest list.

Army scientists and engineers will use the supercomputers to model and evaluate a wide range of soldier- and combat-vehicle-related materials in advance of actual manufacturing. This will accelerate product development by allowing the Army to invest the time and money for actual physical testing for only the products showing the highest promise through modeling. 

The Army will count on Pershing and Hercules to deliver insights in a variety of areas, including modeling materials ranging from weapons systems to armored vehicles, according to Dale Ormond, director of the U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM).

“We have models at the atomic scale, models at quantum scale, models at the grain scale, models at the macro level, for materials ranging from steel to aluminum,” Ormond tells Signal Online, a publication of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA). “We can see how it will perform in one of our Army applications.”

During a keynote address at the ribbon-cutting for the new 20,000 square-foot data center at the APG, Dr. Patricia Falcone, the associate director for national security and international affairs at the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, noted that the new ARL Supercomputing Center is just footsteps away from the building that housed ENIAC through the mid 1950s. 

The building that houses the new supercomputers also has a history–it was once the home of a wind tunnel that delivered airspeeds up to Mach 9. “With that great trajectory of accomplishments, it seems quite appropriate that the building should now house some of the fastest speeds in the world,” she said, “even if those speeds are now going to be measured in petaflops instead of miles per hour.”

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