NTNU Buys Scandinavia’s Most Powerful Supercomputer

By Nicole Hemsoth

May 12, 2006

Once again, Norway is ranked high on the list of the world's most powerful supercomputers. The IBM System p5 supercomputer bought for the high performance computing environment in Trondheim is the most powerful in Scandinavia and number nine in Europe.

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has a long tradition of cracking numbers. The first supercomputer in Norway, a Cray X-MP/2, was installed here in 1986.

Once the contract is signed, IBM will deliver a System p5 as a replacement for the high performance computing system from SGI which has been in operation since 2000. The contract is worth NOK 30 million, and the purchase is financed by NTNU and the Research Council of Norway through the company, UNINETT Sigma.

The IBM System p5, model p575+, is equipped with 62 nodes each featuring eight dual-processing units. This means the system has 992 processing units, each with a speed of 1.9 GHz. The memory in the individual processors is 32 GB, which gives a total memory of 2 TB. The mass storage of the system is 70 TB.

In practice, the computing capacity of this new system will be more than seven times greater than the current SGI system. The capacity of the IBM system is 7.5 teraflops.

With this upgrade, the high performance computing environment in Norway boasts the most powerful computer in Scandinavia, approximately one and a half times more powerful than the computer at the University of Oslo.

Using the Linpack benchmark, the computer is ranked 60th on the list of the 500 most powerful computer systems in the world. Compared with the other European systems included on the list, it is ranked 9th.

IBM's test center in Montpellier has conducted numerous benchmark tests with different applications to measure the performance of the system with a view to various environments and needs. High performance computing experts from IBM's European laboratories have been consulted to make sure NTNU obtains the optimal solution.

The acquisition of the computer will not only benefit researchers at NTNU. Through the cooperation with UNINETT Sigma, the entire Norwegian research environment is ensured free access to the extended computing capacity. This fact contributes to raising the high performance computing infrastructure which enables Norwegian researchers to maintain their position among leading international researchers.

UNINETT Sigma was established on January 1, 2005, as a subsidiary company within the UNINETT group. Sigma will be responsible for the operation of the system, and otherwise be in charge of the operation and development of Norwegian high performance computing over the next decade.

Other Norwegian universities, the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, and companies such as Statoil and Sintef also represent important users of NTNU's supercomputer.

Advanced research projects often have strict requirements for high uptime and 24-hour availability. The choice of IBM's System p5 is therefore ideal for this type of use, as it is suitable for simulation tasks that require stability over several days and weeks. In addition, the computer represents a cluster technology that can be extended indefinitely.

“This system can be compared to a Formula 1 car that not only gives top performance right here and now, but is calibrated to develop,” says Paul Are Killie, Head of IBM Public Sector in Norway.

NTNU has a broad spectrum of academic environments that will benefit from the supercomputer. Advanced computer simulations have to a large extent replaced physical experiments, but not entirely. Numerical simulations still need to be verified through laboratory experiments. Within certain spheres, only theoretical computer-simulated experiments are possible to conduct.

Here are a few examples of important areas where supercomputers are necessary tools:

The Norwegian Meteorological Institute (DNMI) performs its calculations on the computer system in Trondheim. Roar Skålin at DNMI says that it will now be possible to make more accurate models of the terrain, which will result in more accurate forecasts.

“Increased resolution provides us with the opportunity to develop better models of the Norwegian coastal landscape, and with that we can better describe the expected wind conditions along the coast. This provides improved safety for ships and boats,” says Mr. Skålin. He further explains that they will also start using several new weather satellites that in combination with the new computer system will provide even better data to produce accurate forecasts.

Reservoir simulations are important in order to optimize the oil production in the North Sea. Simulations of how oil and gas float in the reservoir are extremely compute-intensive tasks.

Within chemistry, mathematical models are used to analyse various chemical processes. Numerical analysis of chemical kinetics and the modeling of chemical reactions also require high performance computing.

Bioinformatics is a rapidly growing field, where genomic studies and biomolecular modeling are the subject of compute-intensive processing. At NTNU, research is currently being developed around the identification and design of molecules that can selectively attach themselves to certain proteins. This could form the foundation for the development of medicines used, for instance, in cancer treatment.

For marine application, supercomputers are used to conduct calculations related to three-dimensional flow, turbulent flow, and naval construction.

Using supercomputers, problems related to materials science can be dealt with much more realistically than previously. By performing calculations on atomic structures, the materials' properties such as structure, stability and dynamics can be analyzed before making the materials.

Within physics application, one group performs calculations as to how fluid, metallic hydrogen behave at extremely low temperatures. These theoretical physics simulations would be impossible to carry out without supercomputers.

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