Argonne’s Mira Supercomputer to Retire After Years of Enabling Groundbreaking Science

By Jared Sagoff and Jim Collins, Argonne Leadership Computing Facility

December 20, 2019

Mira, the ALCF’s 10-petaflop IBM Blue Gene/Q system, will be retired on December 31, 2019, ending a seven-plus year run of enabling breakthroughs in science and engineering.

When a treasured and respected colleague hits retirement age, coworkers can grow a bit sentimental about the achievements and highlights accomplished over a dedicated and industrious career. It turns out that it is equally true for supercomputers that reach the end of their lifetimes.

Mira, the 10-petaflop IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer first booted up at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory in 2012, will be decommissioned at the end of this year. Its work has spanned seven-plus years and delivered 39.6 billion core-hours to more than 800 projects, solving nearly intractable problems in scientific fields ranging from pharmacology to astrophysics.

“Mira will certainly be missed,” said Michael Papka, director of the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility (ALCF), a DOE Office of Science of User Facility that houses Mira. “Serving as our workhorse supercomputer for many years, Mira is beloved by the ALCF user community and our staff for its ability to tackle big science problems as well as its superior reliability.”

The leadership-class supercomputer is Argonne’s third and final system in the IBM Blue Gene architectural line, which began with the deployment of the lab’s 5.7-teraflop Blue Gene/L machine in 2005. That was followed by Intrepid, a 557-teraflop IBM Blue Gene/P system that served the scientific computing community from 2008 to 2013. When Mira came online in 2012, it was 20 times more powerful than Intrepid, giving researchers a tool that made it possible to perform simulations on unprecedented scales and create more accurate models of everything from combustion engines to blood flow.

Mira remains among the most powerful systems available for open science, sitting at number 22 on the most recent TOP500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers. When it first launched, Mira was ranked as the third fastest system and topped the Green500 list, which recognizes the world’s most energy-efficient supercomputers. It also remains the third ranked system on the Graph 500 list, a measure focused on a supercomputer’s ability to handle data-intensive applications.

One of the necessary advances that made Mira so effective and energy efficient involved directly cooling the machine with pipes carrying water instead of blowing air over the chips. “Water cooling gives you the opportunity to take away a lot more heat from the chips more quickly than air cooling,” said Susan Coghlan, ALCF project director who led the development and deployment of Mira at Argonne.

To enable Mira to sink its teeth into the most challenging problems possible, its designers needed to rethink what a supercomputer should look like. Previous supercomputers were built with progressively more powerful processors, but eventually engineers hit a limit on how many transistors they could fit on an individual core. The answer came in the form of the IBM Blue Gene architecture that eventually resulted in Mira and fit sixteen cores on a single node.

“Mira was the pinnacle of the Blue Gene many-core architectural line, providing a combination of power and reliability that was unprecedented for its time,” Coghlan said.

To read the full article, visit: https://www.alcf.anl.gov/news/argonne-s-mira-supercomputer-set-retire-after-years-enabling-groundbreaking-science

 

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