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October 22, 2013

BP Opens New HPC Facility at Houston Headquarters

Tiffany Trader

BP announced that it has opened a new facility in Houston, Texas, to house what it claims is the “world’s largest supercomputer for commercial research.” The Center for High-Performance Computing is part of BP’s five-year, $100 million investment in computing.

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The facility occupies a three-story, 110,000 square foot building at BP’s Westlake campus. Located at the company’s global headquarters in Houston, BP’s Center for High-Performance Computing serves as a central hub for handling all of the geophysical data from across BP’s portfolio of onshore and offshore sites.

While the company’s previous facility had the distinction of being the first commercial system to break the petaflop barrier, it had reached maximum capacity. A new center would be able to bring down energy consumption and accommodate future expansion. BP reveals that the new HPC center has indeed reduced power consumption by 30 percent through the deployment of more efficient electrical and cooling systems.

In this fast-moving field, leveraging the breakthroughs in seismic imaging technology and reservoir management are crucial to maintain leadership. Thanks to advances in HPC, BP scientists can now complete an imaging project in one day that would have taken four years a decade ago.

There are clear advantages for oil and gas companies that invest in HPC and related technologies that help them see what’s beneath the earth’s surface. As BP explains, the ability to render precise images of the subsurface will boost the company’s ability to find and develop new energy resources. High-speed processing capability will reduce the time it takes to analyze massive quantities of seismic data and it will enable more detailed in-house modeling of rock formations before drilling begins.

The decision to establish a leadership HPC center highlights the company’s commitment to computational technology as a core enabler of its oil and gas business. Advances in HPC – in hardware and software – have been vital to BP’s success. BP’s newest supercomputer was built by HP and Intel. With 2.2 petaflops of data-crunching potential, the new supercomputer has almost twice as much computing power as BP’s previous machine. The new supercomputer also comes with 1,000 TB of total memory and 23.5 petabytes of disk space (which is equivalent of over 40,000 average laptop computers).

Last December, HPCwire learned that BP planned to derive its FLOPs from a CPU-only strategy. The new system would employ about 67,000 CPUs, but no GPUs or Phis. At the time, Keith Gray, BP’s HPC center manager, told HPCwire that the British firm wasn’t ready to make the leap to heterogeneous computing. “We continue to test accelerators,” he shared in an email, “but have not built a strong business case for our complete application base.”

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