2022 Road Trip: NASA Ames Takes Off

By Dan Olds

November 25, 2022

I left Dallas very early Friday morning after the conclusion of SC22. I had a race with the devil to get from Dallas to Mountain View, Calif., by Sunday. According to Google Maps, this 1,957 mile jaunt would be the longest single leg of the journey by far.

I made good time despite coming down with a head cold almost instantly as I started driving. After laying up in Albuquerque and Barstow, I hit Mountain View mid-afternoon on Sunday.

(Side note: I also found the highest fuel prices of the trip on the California side of the Arizona/California border, $8.99 for premium, wow. Fortunately for me, I had filled up in Arizona and was able to keep driving to Barstow.)

I headed to the NASA Ames headquarters bright and early on Monday morning, meeting my interview subject, Piyush Mehrotra, chief of NASA’s Advanced Supercomputing Division (NAS), in his office. We shot the interview in a nearby conference room, where Piyush had a huge ocean simulation as our backdrop.

The task for the NASA NAS is simple in a way; they support simulation and large scale computation tasks for all NASA missions and projects. This is a massive charter and, not surprisingly, requires quite a bit of computing power. In the interview, he gives some details about the ocean simulation in the background, which has run on as many as 80,000 cores. The quality and amount of data gathered and generated is incredible.

We also discuss how the lab has moved to modular computing – in essence, datacenters in containers, which has given them much more room to expand without having to build more raised floor. The containers are both natural air and liquid cooled. With this approach, they’ve reduced water usage by 95% and also radically reduced power demands – resulting in a PUE of 1.04. This is getting close to NREL numbers, wow.

Our conversation covers topics such as lab use of public cloud, hybrid workflows, thoughts on composable infrastructure, new system architectures, heterogeneous computing, quantum, and more. Watch the video below for the entire conversation.

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