NCSA, Cray partner on sustained-petascale Blue Waters supercomputer


The National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the UI has finalized a contract with Cray Inc. to provide the supercomputer for the National Science Foundation’s Blue Waters project. Cray replaces IBM, which terminated its contract in August because, IBM said, the technology required more financial and technical support than originally anticipated.

Cray will begin installing hardware in the UI’s National Petascale Computing Facility within the next few weeks, with an early science system expected to be available in early 2012. Blue Waters is expected to be fully deployed by the end of 2012.

This new Cray supercomputer will support significant research advances in a broad range of science and engineering domains, meeting the needs of the most compute-intensive, memory-intensive and data-intensive applications. Blue Waters is expected to deliver sustained performance, on average, of more than one petaflops on a set of benchmark codes that represent those applications and domains.

More than 25 teams – including four from Illinois faculty members – from a dozen research fields, are preparing to achieve breakthroughs by using Blue Waters to model a broad range of phenomena, including: nanotechnology’s minute molecular assemblies, the evolution of the universe since the Big Bang, the damage caused by earthquakes and the formation of tornadoes, the mechanism by which viruses enter cells and improved climate change predictions.

“We are extremely pleased to have forged a strong partnership with Cray. This configuration will be the most balanced, powerful and useable system available when it comes online. By incorporating a future version of the XK6 system, Blue Waters will also provide a bridge to the future of scientific computing,” said Thom Dunning, NCSA director.

“The Blue Waters team has the technological capability and the commitment to make this important resource a reality – a resource that will help scientists and engineers solve their most challenging problems,” said Phyllis M. Wise, Urbana chancellor and UI vice president.

As supercomputers continue to grow in scale and complexity, it becomes more challenging to effectively harness their power. Since the Blue Waters project was launched in 2008, NCSA has helped researchers prepare their codes for the massive scale of this and other extreme-scale systems. NCSA also initiated a broad range of research and development projects designed to improve the performance of the existing HPC software stack and facilitate the development and use of applications on Blue Waters and other petascale computers.

The Blue Waters project is now prepared to mount a major, community-based effort to move the state of computational science into the petascale era. The center will work with the computational and computer science and engineering communities to help them take full advantage of Blue Waters as well as future supercomputers. The effort will focus on scalability and resilience of algorithms and applications, the use of accelerators to improve time to solution for science and engineering problems, and enabling applications to simultaneously use computational components with different characteristics.