NASA Builds Supercomputing Lab for Earth Scientists

By Robert Gelber

July 25, 2012

This week, NASA announced it would soon be launching a new HPC and data facility that will give earth scientists access to four decades of satellite imagery and other datasets. Known as the NASA Earth Exchange (NEX), the facility is being promoted as a “virtual laboratory” for researchers interested in applying supercomputing resources to studying areas like climate change, soil and vegetation patterns, and other environmental topics.

Much of the work will be based on high-resolution images of Earth that NASA has been accumulating since the early 70s, when the agency began collecting the data in earnest. Originally known as the Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS) program, and later renamed Landsat, its mission was to serve up images of the earth, allowing scientists to observe changes to our planet over time. This includes tracking forest fires, urban sprawl, climate change and a host of other valuable information. Data generated by these satellites has been extremely popular in the global science community. In the last 10 years, more than 500 universities around the globe have used Landsat data to support their research.

Over time though, the program’s growth created a logistical problem. Multiple datasets eventually spanned facilities around the US, which presented challenges for researchers looking to retrieve satellite imagery. Recognizing the issue, NASA created the NEX program with the goal of increasing access to the three-petabyte library of Landsat data.

NEX will houses all data generated by Landsat satellites and related datasets, as well as offering analysis tools powered by the agency’s HPC resources. We spoke with NASA AMES Earth scientist Ramakrishna Nemani, who explained the purpose behind the NEX facility and how it has been implemented. “The main driver is really big data,” he told HPCwire. “Over the past 25 years we have accumulated so much data about the Earth, but the access to all this data hasn’t been that easy.”

Prior to NEX, he said, researchers would be tasked with locating, ordering and downloading relevant data. The process could be time consuming because the satellite imagery they wanted could be housed at one or more locations. Even after locating the desired images, data transfer times would often be prohibitive.

NASA set out to solve the problem, leveraging one of their strongest assets: supercomputing. The agency decided to take all of the disparate datasets and migrate them to the AMES research center. “We said ‘let’s do an experiment.’ We already have a supercomputer here at AMES, so we can bring all these datasets together and locate them next to the supercomputer,” said Nemani.

That system, known as Pleiades, is the world’s largest SGI Altix ICE cluster and the agency’s most powerful supercomputer. Pleiades has been upgraded over time accumulating several generations of Intel Xeon processors: Harpertown, Nehalem, Westmere, and, most recently Sandy Bridge. For extra computational horsepower, the Westmere nodes are equipped with NVIDIA Tesla GPUs. Linpack performance is 1.24 petaflops, which earned it the number 11 spot on the June 2012 TOP500 list.

The system also includes 9.3 petabytes of DataDirect storage. Given that, AMES is now able to host the three petabytes of image data at a single location. But NEX was created to do more than hold all the satellite imagery under one roof. A collection of tools was developed to help researchers analyze the data using the Pleiades cluster.

For example, a scientist could create vegetation patterns with the toolset, piecing together images like a jigsaw puzzle. The program estimates that processing time for a scene containing 500 billion pixels would take under 10 hours. Without the NEX toolset, scientists would have to create their own computational methods to perform similar research.

While making Pleiades’ compute resources available was beneficial for researchers, it posed somewhat of a challenge for the NEX project team, since a certain level of virtualization is required to support concurrent access. The marriage of virtualization and supercomputing can be “tricky business,” according to Nemani, but the program had a unique plan in this regard.

“We have two sandboxes that sit outside of the supercomputing enclave,” he said. “We bring in people and have them do all the testing on the sandboxes. After they get the kinks worked out and they’re ready to deploy, we send them inside.”

Eventually, the program would like to have scientists run their own sandbox program and upload it to the supercomputer as a virtual machine.

While NEX has some cloud elements to it, NASA could not feasibly run the project on a public cloud infrastructure. “We are trying to collocate the computing and the data together, just like clouds are doing. I would not say this is typical cloud because we have a lot of data. I cannot do this on Amazon because it would cost me a lot of money,” said Nemani

The NEX program also features a unique social networking element, which allows researchers to share their findings. It’s not uncommon for scientists to move on after working a particular topic. However, this reduces access to codes and algorithms utilized in their research. These social media tools provided by NEX allow peers to go back and verify the results of previous experiments. Combined with access to HPC and the legacy datasets, the facility provides what may be the most complete set of resources of its kind in the world.

“Basically, we are trying to create a one-stop shop for earth sciences,” said Nemani.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

AI-Focused ‘Genius’ Supercomputer Installed at KU Leuven

April 24, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has deployed a new approximately half-petaflops supercomputer, named Genius, at Flemish research university KU Leuven. The system is built to run artificial intelligence (AI) workloads and, as Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

New Exascale System for Earth Simulation Introduced

April 23, 2018

After four years of development, the Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM) will be unveiled today and released to the broader scientific community this month. The E3SM project is supported by the Department of Energy Read more…

By Staff

RSC Reports 500Tflops, Hot Water Cooled System Deployed at JINR

April 18, 2018

RSC, developer of supercomputers and advanced HPC systems based in Russia, today reported deployment of “the world's first 100% ‘hot water’ liquid cooled supercomputer” at Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (JI Read more…

By Staff

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Hybrid HPC is Speeding Time to Insight and Revolutionizing Medicine

High performance computing (HPC) is a key driver of success in many verticals today, and health and life science industries are extensively leveraging these capabilities. Read more…

New Device Spots Quantum Particle ‘Fingerprint’

April 18, 2018

Majorana particles have been observed by university researchers employing a device consisting of layers of magnetic insulators on a superconducting material. The advance opens the door to controlling the elusive particle Read more…

By George Leopold

AI-Focused ‘Genius’ Supercomputer Installed at KU Leuven

April 24, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise has deployed a new approximately half-petaflops supercomputer, named Genius, at Flemish research university KU Leuven. The system is Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Cray Rolls Out AMD-Based CS500; More to Follow?

April 18, 2018

Cray was the latest OEM to bring AMD back into the fold with introduction today of a CS500 option based on AMD’s Epyc processor line. The move follows Cray’ Read more…

By John Russell

IBM: Software Ecosystem for OpenPOWER is Ready for Prime Time

April 16, 2018

With key pieces of the IBM/OpenPOWER versus Intel/x86 gambit settling into place – e.g., the arrival of Power9 chips and Power9-based systems, hyperscaler sup Read more…

By John Russell

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Cloud-Readiness and Looking Beyond Application Scaling

April 11, 2018

There are two aspects to consider when determining if an application is suitable for running in the cloud. The first, which we will discuss here under the title Read more…

By Chris Downing

Transitioning from Big Data to Discovery: Data Management as a Keystone Analytics Strategy

April 9, 2018

The past 10-15 years has seen a stark rise in the density, size, and diversity of scientific data being generated in every scientific discipline in the world. Key among the sciences has been the explosion of laboratory technologies that generate large amounts of data in life-sciences and healthcare research. Large amounts of data are now being stored in very large storage name spaces, with little to no organization and a general unease about how to approach analyzing it. Read more…

By Ari Berman, BioTeam, Inc.

IBM Expands Quantum Computing Network

April 5, 2018

IBM is positioning itself as a first mover in establishing the era of commercial quantum computing. The company believes in order for quantum to work, taming qu Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

FY18 Budget & CORAL-2 – Exascale USA Continues to Move Ahead

April 2, 2018

It was not pretty. However, despite some twists and turns, the federal government’s Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18) budget is complete and ended with some very positi Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise I Read more…

By Chris Downing

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Deep Learning at 15 PFlops Enables Training for Extreme Weather Identification at Scale

March 19, 2018

Petaflop per second deep learning training performance on the NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center) Cori supercomputer has given climate Read more…

By Rob Farber

Leading Solution Providers

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with par Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

HPC and AI – Two Communities Same Future

January 25, 2018

According to Al Gara (Intel Fellow, Data Center Group), high performance computing and artificial intelligence will increasingly intertwine as we transition to Read more…

By Rob Farber

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

New Blueprint for Converging HPC, Big Data

January 18, 2018

After five annual workshops on Big Data and Extreme-Scale Computing (BDEC), a group of international HPC heavyweights including Jack Dongarra (University of Te Read more…

By John Russell

Momentum Builds for US Exascale

January 9, 2018

2018 looks to be a great year for the U.S. exascale program. The last several months of 2017 revealed a number of important developments that help put the U.S. Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Google Chases Quantum Supremacy with 72-Qubit Processor

March 7, 2018

Google pulled ahead of the pack this week in the race toward "quantum supremacy," with the introduction of a new 72-qubit quantum processor called Bristlecone. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This