First Details Emerge from Cray on Trinity Supercomputer

By Nicole Hemsoth

July 10, 2014

Note – 7:32 p.m. Eastern: We have full details from Los Alamos about the system in a detailed update article.

Cray has been granted one of the largest awards in its history for the long-awaited “Trinity” supercomputer. This morning the company announced a $174 million deal to provide the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) with a multi-petaflop next generation Cray XC machine, complemented by an 82 petabyte capacity Cray Sonexion storage system. The goal of the new super is set to contend with the agency’s nuclear stockpiles, simulating everything from continued maintenance, degradation, and even destruction of the vast reserves, as well as hosting a wealth of classified national security applications.

The original proposal for the system suggest a need for a machine capable of up to 30 petaflops, and it looks like this might not be unrealistic given what we know about the architectural choices and the amount Cray inked into their revenue for the year today—causing a decent uptick in their stock price and tipping them into billion-dollar valuation territory.

The system will be powered by what sounds like a relatively balanced combination of future-generation Haswells (we’re guessing between 14-18 cores) and future Knights Landing processors (60+ cores), which represents a strategy that’s driven by a clear sense of NNSA application and simulation goals. We’ll do some speculative math in the coming week or so about what this system might actually look like since nothing has been released FLOPS or otherwise, but given so many unknowns in terms of final core counts of the Haswell and Knights Landing as well as pricing, we want to take our time on those guesses. But the early look we got with the formal announcement and our conversation with Cray denotes this is going to be core-heavy, FLOPS-centric powerhouse, even if it doesn’t meet the high-end 30 petaflop target.

Following a conversation this morning with Cray’s Barry Bolding, we learned there are two major phases in the deployment leading up to the acceptance testing late next year or into the following year, which is likely determined by Intel’s delivery of the new Xeons and Knights Landing chips versus any delays on Cray’s part. What’s interesting is that it sounds like it’s a balanced system between the two core types.

Bolding says that the processor updates are a defining factor in the next generation of their XC rather than an entirely new system set driven by custom engineering of the entire system’s interconnect, cooling, or other components. He does note that in the new generation of XC machines there has been extensive work done to support the large number of new Intel cores within the software stack, and ostensibly in their Sonexion storage to support the tiered storage demands for using burst buffers in novel ways. The idea, he says, is to make machines that are ready to roll into large deployments like this and the NERSC system instead of custom engineering systems based on particular user requirements.

“It’s hard to build these reproducible products at this scale that multiple sites agree they can all use. Our philosophy is to create these massive production systems and it’s good that we don’t have to custom design each one. There’s going to be an evolution of the software stack and new features we’re not talking about today, but there will be innovations—and that’s another reason it’s a multi-phased approach.”

“Each phase is significant in size—the first will predominantly be the next-generation Haswell processors, followed by the Knight’s Landing piece in a later phase.” They’re both major parts of the installation, one isn’t much larger than the other.

Other systems that are set to come online in the next year and a half may be reliant on more novel, diverse architectures, but with a very specific, known set of users and projects, it’s clear that the NNSA had a direct sense of how the additional cores (and presumably on-package memory of Knight’s Landing) would translate directly into meaningful results.

The system choice was driven by the need to secure a mixed workload system, hence the processor choice of both Knight’s Landing and Haswell cores (compared to the NERSC “Cori” supercomputer that Cray is building which is predominantly next-generation Knight’s Landing based). “The binary compatibility in their Xeon line is a Knight’s innovation when you want to do heterogeneous types of problems across different types of processors. It’s not super-unique, but it’s interesting that they want to do this at such large scale,” said Bolding.

NERSC’s system and Trinity are both XC systems, but these are different workloads with different mandates. NERSC has a broad user base as an open science DoE system serving thousands of applications and hundreds of users. The Trinity system will be used for more targeted weapons stockpile-related workloads.” He says it shows that the XC systems can be diverse enough to support both distinct user types and beyond.

Aside from the sheer core thrust from the Intel processors, one of the more interesting elements of the upcoming machine is the storage. Bolding says they wanted a very large, powerful Lustre environment and Sonexion met those requirements. We’ll be bringing more details on the burst buffer and general storage component later today following a conversation with one of the leads on that front at Los Alamos but for now, we have some initial details from Cray.

“Tiered storage (and burst buffers are a particular tier) will be more important for customers like this in the future but there is real interest in more than just Lustre at other tiers. We are working to develop this in multiple tiers to support these needs,” said Bolding.

This is among the largest deals in Cray’s history. The company had a multi-year DARPA contract valued initially at $250 million in 2006, although the final contract was closer to the amount of the Trinity system. The Blue Waters procurement, as tangled as it might have been in 2011, was around $200 million, and at Oak Ridge, other similar deals in terms of dollar value were secured. Still, this represents one of the top contracts for Cray—and we’re just getting into swing with procurement news, which will pick up now that there is clarity around when the latest Intel processors will roll out—something that undoubtedly is driving procurement timelines across the board.

The new supercomputer will be housed at Los Alamos National Laboratory and is part of a joint effort between the New Mexico Alliance for Computing at Extreme Scale (ACES), based at LANL, and Sandia National Laboratories’ NNSA Advanced Simulation and Computing Program (ASC).

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