Visit additional Tabor Communication Publications
June 30, 2011
The year is only half over and already seems to be particularly disaster-prone. From the devastating earthquake and tsunamis in Japan, to the multiple tornadoes events in the American Midwest, to the deadly floods in southern China, 2011 just seems to be one never-ending natural catastrophe. And supercomputers, the very machines that are relied upon to predict and mitigate these deadly events, are not escaping nature's wrath.
This week the wildfires in New Mexico led to a shutdown of two of the largest supercomputers in the world at Los Alamos National Lab. Roadrunner, the first machine to break the petaflop barrier, and currently number 10 on the TOP500, and Cielo, a Cray XE6 that holds the number six position, were powered off this week. The fire has destroyed nearly 100,000 acres and is likely to become the New Mexico's largest and most destructive in the state's history.
According to a Computerworld report, the exact reason for the hardware shutdown was not provided. The supercomputers themselves are not in any direct danger from the fires. As of this writing, nothing was burning on LANL property, but the surrounding smoky air could compromise the cooling system, which would force the machines to be powered off.
Also, the lab will be closed at least until Friday, with all nonessential personnel directed to remain off-site. That in itself would make the operation of these high-maintenance supercomputers a little dicey. Lights-out supercomputing has yet to become a reality.
Meanwhile in Japan, supercomputers there are still suffering from the after effects of the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunamis in March. When power supplies were disrupted Immediately following the quake, a number of supercomputers across the country were powered off. And as we reported last week, due to the longer term shutdown of four large power plants, the Tokyo area will have to shave energy consumption by 15 percent this summer, resulting in at least on large supercomputer (the PACS-CS machine at the University of Tsukuba) to be shut off during the day.
Although catastrophic floods and fires can occur nearly anywhere, certain locations are particularly susceptible to natural disasters. It's worth noting that the majority of the top 10 supercomputers in the world live in dangerous geographies:
K computer: Kobe, Japan (earthquake zone)
Tianhe-1A: China (earthquake zone)
Jaguar: Oak Ridge, United States
Nebulae: Shenzhen, China (hurricane zone)
TSUBAME 2.0: Tokyo, Japan (earthquake zone)
Cielo: Los Alamos, United States (wildfire danger)
Pleiades: Moffett Field, United States (earthquake zone)
Hopper: Berkeley, United States (earthquake zone)
Tera-100: Bruyères-le-Châtel, France
Roadrunner: Los Alamos, United States (wildfire danger)
In general, supercomputers tend to be pretty well protected from the direct effects of disasters. Of course, it's possible an HPC data center could get washed away by a flood or get leveled by a tornado or earthquake, but it's far more likely that damage to the surrounding infrastructure -- power facilities, transmission lines, water systems, transportation corridors, etc. -- would force the supercomputers to be shut off.
As we saw in the case of Japan, the destruction doesn't even have to be local. Power and water are transported far and wide, and the loss of a critical power plant a thousand miles away can have serious consequences for megawatt-consuming hardware.
The fact is that supercomputers are high maintenance machines, requiring lots of electricity, water, clean air, and highly skilled personnel to keep them running. And unfortunately, the most elite machines are becoming even more high demanding as they become ever larger and more complex.
Power interruption is the biggest risk. The new top super, the K computer in Japan, draws 10 megawatts of electricity, and most of the top 30 systems are in the multi-megawatt range. The goal for future exaflop-level machines is 20 megawatts, but many people think that number will be two to ten times too low for the first such systems.
The irony, of course, is that these same machines are being employed to help predict and mitigate the effects of natural disasters. Climate modeling, weather forecasting, hurricane tracking, earthquake prediction, and disaster management/response are the bread-and-butter applications for many of these supercomputers.
The hope is that these systems will become so proficient at modeling these events that they will able to predict these natural disasters far in advance and avoid their worst effects. That will not only save their masters, but themselves as well.
Posted by Michael Feldman - June 30, 2011 @ 5:40 PM, Pacific Daylight Time
Michael Feldman is the editor of HPCwire.
No Recent Blog Comments
In quieter times, sounding the bell of funding big science with big systems tends to resonate further than when ears are already burning with sour economic and national security news. For exascale's future, however, the time could be ripe to instill some sense of urgency....
In a recent solicitation, the NSF laid out needs for furthering its scientific and engineering infrastructure with new tools to go beyond top performance, Having already delivered systems like Stampede and Blue Waters, they're turning an eye to solving data-intensive challenges. We spoke with the agency's Irene Qualters and Barry Schneider about..
Large-scale, worldwide scientific initiatives rely on some cloud-based system to both coordinate efforts and manage computational efforts at peak times that cannot be contained within the combined in-house HPC resources. Last week at Google I/O, Brookhaven National Lab’s Sergey Panitkin discussed the role of the Google Compute Engine in providing computational support to ATLAS, a detector of high-energy particles at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
May 23, 2013 |
The study of climate change is one of those scientific problems where it is almost essential to model the entire Earth to attain accurate results and make worthwhile predictions. In an attempt to make climate science more accessible to smaller research facilities, NASA introduced what they call ‘Climate in a Box,’ a system they note acts as a desktop supercomputer.
May 22, 2013 |
At some point in the not-too-distant future, building powerful, miniature computing systems will be considered a hobby for high schoolers, just as robotics or even Lego-building are today. That could be made possible through recent advancements made with the Raspberry Pi computers.
May 16, 2013 |
When it comes to cloud, long distances mean unacceptably high latencies. Researchers from the University of Bonn in Germany examined those latency issues of doing CFD modeling in the cloud by utilizing a common CFD and its utilization in HPC instance types including both CPU and GPU cores of Amazon EC2.
May 15, 2013 |
Supercomputers at the Department of Energy’s National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) have worked on important computational problems such as collapse of the atomic state, the optimization of chemical catalysts, and now modeling popping bubbles.
May 10, 2013 |
Program provides cash awards up to $10,000 for the best open-source end-user applications deployed on 100G network.
05/10/2013 | Cleversafe, Cray, DDN, NetApp, & Panasas | From Wall Street to Hollywood, drug discovery to homeland security, companies and organizations of all sizes and stripes are coming face to face with the challenges – and opportunities – afforded by Big Data. Before anyone can utilize these extraordinary data repositories, however, they must first harness and manage their data stores, and do so utilizing technologies that underscore affordability, security, and scalability.
04/15/2013 | Bull | “50% of HPC users say their largest jobs scale to 120 cores or less.” How about yours? Are your codes ready to take advantage of today’s and tomorrow’s ultra-parallel HPC systems? Download this White Paper by Analysts Intersect360 Research to see what Bull and Intel’s Center for Excellence in Parallel Programming can do for your codes.
In this demonstration of SGI DMF ZeroWatt disk solution, Dr. Eng Lim Goh, SGI CTO, discusses a function of SGI DMF software to reduce costs and power consumption in an exascale (Big Data) storage datacenter.
The Cray CS300-AC cluster supercomputer offers energy efficient, air-cooled design based on modular, industry-standard platforms featuring the latest processor and network technologies and a wide range of datacenter cooling requirements.