We’ve Got the (Computer) Power

We've Got the (Computer) Power

The University of Tennessee’s supercomputer, Kraken, has broken a major barrier to become the world’s first academic supercomputer to enter the petascale, performing more than 1 thousand-trillion, or 1 quadrillion (1015), operations per second.

That leap in performance translated into a leap in the global computing rankings, with Kraken now being the world’s fastest academic computer and the third fastest computer overall in the most recent Top500 list announced last November.

Kraken is only the fourth supercomputer of any kind to break the petascale barrier (reaching or exceeding 1 petaflop, which stands for “1 quadrillion floating-point operations per second”), and that computing power already is being applied to high-level science that is changing the way researchers study everything from the innermost workings of our cells to immense astrophysics questions that shed light on the origins of the universe.

Kraken was funded with a $65-million grant from the National Science Foundation. NSF also recently awarded UT Knoxville $10 million to develop a computer system that will interpret the massive amounts of data created by the current generation of high-performance computers in the agency’s national computer grid.

Sean Ahern, a computer scientist with UT Knoxville’s College of Engineering and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), will manage the effort, which will store and examine data generated by computer simulations like those used for weather and climate, large experimental facilities like ORNL’s Spallation Neutron Source, and widely distributed arrays of sensors.

“Next-generation computing is now this-generation computing,” Ahern said. “What’s lacking are the tools capable of turning supercomputer data into scientific understanding. This project should provide those critical capabilities.”

Ahern and colleagues at UT’s National Institute for Computational Sciences will develop Nautilus, a shared-memory computer system that will have the capability to store vast amounts of data, all of which can be accessed by each of its 1,024 core processors. Nautilus will be one of the largest shared-memory computers in the world, Ahern said. It will be located alongside Kraken at ORNL.