Super Problem Solving

By Gabor Samu, IBM Spectrum Computing

August 9, 2018

You might think that tackling the world’s toughest problems is a job only for superheroes, but at special places such as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, supercomputers are the real heroes.

At Oak Ridge, we tackle some of the most difficult grand challenges that the planet has to offer,” states Jeff Nichols, Associate Laboratory Director at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

At Oak Ridge and other US Department of Energy National Labs, supercomputing resources are made available to commercial and government clients to help solve problems ranging from clean energy to national security. Recently, as part of the Collaboration of Oak Ridge, Argonne, and Lawrence Livermore (CORAL) program, the US Department of Energy unveiled the newest super member of the ORNL team –  Summit, the world’s most powerful and smartest artificial intelligence (AI) supercomputer – the result of years of dedication and innovation by IBMers around the world.

Summit is a collaborative project,” notes Buddy Bland, Project Director at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility. “It brings together all the resources of the OpenPOWER Foundation and gives us the opportunity to build a machine that will be second to none in the ability to do science.”

Summit is capable of performing 200 quadrillion calculations per second — or 200 petaflops — making it the fastest in the world. But this system was never just about speed. Summit is also optimized for AI in a data-intense world. IBM designed a new heterogeneous architecture that integrates the robust data analysis of powerful IBM POWER9 CPUs with the deep learning capabilities of GPUs. The result is unparalleled performance on critical new applications.

Jack Wells, Director of Science at the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility states: “Because of the new compute and data infrastructure we’re building with Summit, the time to solution can be dramatically decreased, which means that more challenging, more complete problems can be attempted.

The Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge uses an advanced “data centric” approach that minimizes data in motion and energy consumption, providing more cost-effective modeling, simulation, and Big Data analytics. The world is generating more than 2.5 billion gigabytes of data every day (equivalent to 250 million football fields full of books), requiring entirely new approaches to supercomputing.[1]

The current approach from other technology providers presumes a model of data repeatedly moving back and forth from storage to processor in order to analyze and access data insights. However, this approach becomes unsustainable with the onslaught of Big Data because of the significant amount of time and energy that massive and frequent data movement entails. To address this issue, IBM researchers pioneered an architecture that embeds compute power everywhere data resides in the system, allowing for a convergence of analytics, modeling, visualization, and simulation, driving new insights at incredible speeds.

The systems such as Summit at Oak Ridge are expected to offer five to 10 times better performance on commercial and high-performance computing applications compared to the current systems at the labs, and will be more than five times more energy efficient.

Along with leveraging the advantages offered by IBM Power processors and the innovative new data centric architecture, Summit at Oak Ridge has deployed a data storage solution based on the high performance IBM Spectrum Scale data management system powering an IBM Elastic Storage Server (ESS) file system that provides an astonishing 250 petabytes of storage and 2.5 terabytes per second of throughput.

Summit also leverages the power of IBM Spectrum Computing solutions such as IBM Spectrum LSF Suites to provide sophisticated systems management and workload prioritization, while helping to enhance user productivity by hiding the complexity inherent in high performance computing environments.

“We are integrating LSF capabilities with facility awareness to influence scheduling decisions,” notes Jim Rogers, Director of Computing and Facilities for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s National Center for Computational Sciences. “With the ability to exchange information, we expect increased operational effectiveness.”[2]

Bringing superheroes to life may not be the formal mission of installations such as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, but with the help of IBM, developing super capabilities to solve very difficult problems certainly is. Jack Wells states: “We’re thrilled to be partnering again with IBM on this project. Doing something that’s really important to the nation really gets us going.”

Learn more about how IBM and the OpenPOWER Foundation are supporting the development of the new Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge.


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