Petrobras Announces Dell-Built ‘Gaia’ Research Supercomputer

By Oliver Peckham

January 20, 2023

Hot on the heels of Pégaso, a 21 peak petaflops system announced not even six months ago, Petrobras – Brazil’s state-owned petroleum company – has announced another major supercomputer: Gaia, named for the Greek goddess of (and metonym for) Earth. The research-focused system, planned for 7.7 peak petaflops of computing power, will bring the petroleum firm’s total supercomputing capacity over the 70 petaflops mark.

As with the announcement of Pégaso, the announcement of Gaia was accompanied by just a couple of broad performance estimates – 7.7 peak petaflops, 574kW – and few hardware details. (Pégaso eventually debuted on the Top500 with AMD Epyc “Milan” CPUs and Nvidia A100 GPUs.) Gaia marks 2023 as the fifth consecutive year in which Petrobras has publicly launched a supercomputer; however, BNAmericas reported that, unlike the past four systems (Pégaso, Dragão, Atlas and Fênix), Gaia will be built by Dell rather than Atos.

While Gaia’s earthy name might seem in poor taste for a fossil fuel giant, it actually serves a quite literal purpose: the new system is aimed at improving seismic imaging. “Gaia will be used to develop new technologies in geophysics, with a special focus on subsurface imaging and modeling,” explained Fernando Borges, Petrobras’ director of exploration and production (in translation). “The precision generated by the geophysical study of the models developed with these new technologies increases the probability of success when choosing an area and predicting the behavior of the rock during the drilling of a well.”

“Gaia will be dedicated to the development of new algorithms for imaging at Petrobras, in different states of technological maturity, with a special focus on the least-squares and elastic full waveform inversion techniques, in addition to applications using machine learning,” explained Paulo Palaia, Petrobras’ director of digital transformation (in translation).

“This is the first time that we have a supercomputer of this size for research,” Borges added. “We hope that it becomes part of the Top500.”

Petrobras said that Gaia has been designed for energy efficiency, touting its placements on the Green500 and leadership on that front in Latin America – and, indeed, Pégaso placed 39th on the most recent Green500 list. (Somewhat confusingly, they also explained that Gaia’s energy consumption is equivalent to “a city of 2,400 inhabitants,” which seems more alarming than reassuring.)

Petrobras’ peak petaflops over time. Image courtesy of Petrobras.

Pégaso brought Petrobras’ supercomputing capacity to 63 peak petaflops; barring unknown systems, Gaia should bring the firm to 70.7 peak petaflops. A graphic from last year had shown a goal of 80 peak petaflops for 2022, so it seems safe to assume that Gaia won’t mark the end of Petrobras’ rapid investments in supercomputing.

Dell began delivering Gaia to its home at Petrobras’ Development and Innovation Research Center in Rio de Janeiro last month. The system is expected to become operational in Q1 of the year.

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