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NASA's Columbia Supercomputer is World's Fastest


October 27, 2004

Silicon Graphics (NYSE: SGI) with NASA on Tuesday confirmed that NASA's new Intel® Itanium® 2 processor-based Columbia supercomputer is the most powerful computer in the world. Only days after NASA completed installation of Columbia-and using just 16 of Columbia's 20 installed systems-the new supercomputer achieved sustained performance of 42.7 trillion calculations per second (teraflops), eclipsing the performance of every supercomputer operating today.

jpg Nasa"s Supercomputer

NASA's new Intel® Itanium® 2 processor-based Columbia supercomputer
Photo courtesy NASA

Built from SGI® Altix® systems and driven by 10,240 Intel Itanium 2 processors, Columbia's 16-system result easily tops Japan's famed Earth Simulator, rated at 35.86 teraflops, and IBM's recent in-house Blue Gene/L experiment, rated at 36.01 teraflops. Columbia's record results were achieved running the LINPACK benchmark on 8,192 of the NASA supercomputer's 10,240 processors. Columbia also achieved an 88 percent efficiency rating on the LINPACK benchmark, the highest efficiency rating ever attained in a LINPACK test on large systems.

While LINPACK is popular as a yardstick of supercomputing performance, NASA is primarily interested in how the Columbia system will revolutionize the rate of scientific discovery at the Agency.

"Benchmarks are useful for confirming that Columbia is meeting our performance expectations, but the numbers we find most significant are something else altogether," said Walt Brooks, division chief, Advanced Supercomputing Division, NASA. "For instance, we find the number five to be significant. This is because with Columbia, scientists are discovering they can potentially predict hurricane paths a full five days before the storms reach landfall - an enormous improvement over today's two-day warnings and one that may present huge advantages for saving human life and property."

"Also significant is the number one," added Brooks, "because with just one of Columbia's 20 Altix systems, we've reduced the time required to perform complex aircraft design analysis from years to a single day."

"Unlike other recent supercomputer speed announcements, the Columbia world speed record was attained on a system that is already fully in use at a customer site," said Dave Parry, senior vice president and general manager, Server and Platform Group, SGI. "We're delighted to see the efforts of NASA, SGI and Intel deliver such remarkable results, not only in terms of benchmark superiority, but in the creation of a system that is changing the very nature of science."

Shattering long-held assumptions about supercomputing deployment, Columbia was built and installed in fewer than 120 days, and was available to scientists throughout its installation. In fact, scientists from NASA centers and universities throughout the US used new Altix systems within days after they arrived at NASA. Columbia is already having a major impact on NASA's science, aeronautics, and exploration programs, in addition to playing a critical role in the Space Shuttle Return to Flight activity. (See related announcement, NASA, SGI and Intel Build and Deploy World's Most Powerful Supercomputer in Record Time)

NASA unveiled new details of its Columbia supercomputer in a dedication ceremony Tuesday at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

Signaling a new era in deployable supercomputing technology, the Linux® OS-based Columbia system is built from the same industry standard, commercially available Altix systems that have been in widespread use throughout the world since SGI introduced Altix in January 2003. Leading automakers, consumer product manufacturers, energy companies, pharmaceutical companies, national laboratories, government agencies and research institutions have adopted the SGI Altix platform, which can scale from 4 to 512 processors in a single system.



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