NSF AWARDS $45 MILLION TO PSC

August 8, 2000

SCIENCE & ENGINEERING NEWS

Pittsburgh, PA — The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) has been awarded $45 million from the National Science Foundation to provide “terascale” computing capability for U.S. researchers in all science and engineering disciplines. Through this award, PSC will collaborate with Compaq Computer Corporation to create a new, extremely powerful system for the use of scientists and engineers nationwide.

Terascale refers to computational power beyond a “teraflop” – a trillion calculations per second. While several terascale systems have been developed for classified research at national laboratories, the PSC system will be the most powerful to date designed as an open resource for scientists attacking a wide range of problems. In this respect, it fills a gap in U.S. research capability – highlighted in a 1999 report to President Clinton – and will facilitate progress in many areas of significant social impact, such as the structure and dynamics of proteins useful in drug design, storm-scale weather forecasting, earthquake modeling, and modeling of global climate change.

The three-year award, effective Oct. 1, is based on PSC’s proposal to provide a system, installed and available for use in 2001, with peak performance exceeding six teraflops. To achieve this, PSC and Compaq proposed a system architecture, based on existing or soon to be available components, optimized to the computational requirements posed by a wide range of research applications and which, at this level of performance, pushes beyond simple evolution of existing technology.

The brain of the proposed six teraflop system will be an interconnected network of Compaq AlphaServers, 682 of them, each of which itself contains four Compaq Alpha microprocessors. Existing terascale systems rely on other processors, but extensive testing by PSC and others indicates that the Alpha processor offers superior performance over a range of applications.

Development of this system will draw on a history of collaboration between PSC and Compaq, and represents an extension of PSC’s history of success at installing untried, new systems – resolving the myriad of unanticipated hardware and software glitches that come up – and turning them over rapidly to the scientific community as productive research tools.

The PSC terascale system, to be located at the Westinghouse Energy Center, Monroeville, will be a component of NSF’s Partnerships for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (PACI) program, supplementing other computational resources available to U. S. scientists and engineers.

“The PSC has – with its partners at Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Pittsburgh and Westinghouse – an excellent record of installing innovative, high-performance systems and operating them to maximize research productivity,” said NSF director Rita Colwell.

“We’re pleased that NSF’s terascale initiative gives us this opportunity to use PSC’s proven capability in high-performance computing, communications and informatics in support of the national research effort,” said PSC scientific directors Michael Levine and Ralph Roskies in a joint statement. “Working in partnership with Compaq, we’ll create a system that enables U.S. researchers to attack the most computationally challenging problems in engineering and science.”

“Compaq is looking forward to working with the National Science Foundation and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and we are committed to the success of the terascale initiative,” said Michael Capellas, Compaq’s president and CEO. “With our AlphaServer systems and Tru64 UNIX, we are providing the technology infrastructure for some of the most advanced computing projects in the world. This is further proof of Compaq’s leadership in high-performance computing and our commitment to help open new frontiers in science and technology.”

Development and implementation of the terascale system, including software and networking, will draw on fundamental research in computer science. A significant strength of PSC is its tri-partite affiliation with Westinghouse and with Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh and the pooled computing-related expertise of faculty and staff at both universities.

“This award, which comes as the culmination of a national competition, recognizes PSC’s leadership in high-performance computing and communications,” said Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon. “And it provides another key building block for our region’s technology future, enhancing our international stature in the development and application of advanced computing technology.”

“A gap exists between the computing resources available to the classified world and the open scientific community,” said Mark Nordenberg, chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh. “It is ideal that PSC, a world leader in acquiring and deploying early the most powerful computers for science and engineering, can contribute to filling this gap. This award also demonstrates the unique scientific strengths that exist in Pittsburgh when its major research universities partner with each other and with leaders in industry.”

“Today’s terascale award is one more in a long list of PSC’s major achievements,” said Charlie Pryor, president and CEO of Westinghouse Electric Company. “Westinghouse is proud of PSC’s contribution to the nation’s scientific community and is pleased to have been associated with PSC since its inception.”

Under the proposal, PSC will by the end of this year install an initial system with a peak performance of 0.4 teraflops. The six teraflop system, which will use faster Compaq Alpha microprocessors not yet available, will evolve from this system. The four-processor AlphaServers use high-bandwidth, low-latency interconnect technology developed by Compaq through a U.S. Department of Energy advanced technology program.

The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is a joint effort of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh together with the Westinghouse Electric Company. It was established in 1986 and is supported by several federal agencies, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and private industry. An artist’s rendition of PSC’s terascale system and examples of potential research applications are available at: http://www.psc.edu/publicinfo/tcs .

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