Inside NASA's world-class supercomputer center (photos)
NASA currently operates the sixth-most powerful supercomputer on Earth. It serves the entire agency, and dwarfs its predecessor.
Newest Pleiades racks
At NASA's advanced supercomputing facility, at its Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., the space agency maintains Pleiades, which at a current official measurement of 973 teraflops--or 973 trillion floating point operations per second--is the world's sixth-most powerful computer.
Pleiades is used by NASA personnel across the agency for research in earth and space sciences, and for conducting giant simulations. The machine is almost fully subscribed--meaning that it is in use 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Inside the computing center, the agency maintains rack after rack of the SGI machines that make up Pleiades, most of which have 512 cores, or about 6 teraflops. But recently, the center added 32 new racks with 768 cores--some of which are seen here.
Things move fast in the world of supercomputers. When Pleiades was debuted in November 2008, it was measured at 487 teraflops and was the third-most powerful computer. Now, almost a year and a half later, it has dropped to sixth place on the list, but has doubled its power.
Seen here is an image created with Pleiades that shows a visualization of the Ares-1's main engine plume interacting during a type-4 stage separation with the Interstage. To better depict the lower Mach numbers and the flowfield overall, the Mach contours are shown on a logarithmic scale.
Photo by: Goetz Klopfer, NASA Exploration Systems MissionDirectorate / Caption by:
Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle visualization
A calculation done on Pleiades of the computational fluid dynamics of the flow around the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. The colors on the surface are pressure contours, and in order to help visualize the flow, streamlines are used.
Photo by: Joseph Olejniczak, NASA Exploration Systems MissionDirectorate / Caption by:
Global modeling of aerosols
On the left side of this image are aerosol optical depths observed by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on April 13, 2001, and August 22, 2001. On the right side are simulations of the optical depths done by the Goddard Chemistry Aerosol Radiation and Transport (GOCART) model. In the images, red indicates fine model aerosols like smoke and pollution, while green indicates coarse mode aerosols such as sea salt and dust. The April images depict the movement of heavy dust and pollution from Asia to the Pacific, and the transport of dust from Africa to the Atlantic. In the August images, there are big smoke plumes over Southern African and South America.
In this image, two computational fluid dynamics cases for the B-52 are shown for the X-51, which is expected to have its first flight sometime this year.
Photo by: Todd Magee, NASA Aeronautics Research MissionDirectorate / Caption by:
In 2004, after the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, NASA set out to investigate why the space ship had exploded. Among the ways they pursued that project was to roll out a new supercomputer. So in 2004, the Columbia supercomputer was turned on at NASA Ames. The machine, which is still operational today--though it's no longer the agency's primary supercomputer--debuted with a measurement of 60 teraflops and was, at the time, the world's second-most powerful computer. Over time, it ramped up to about 90 teraflops, but now operates at about 30 teraflops.
Seen here are several racks of discs for the Columbia supercomputer.
Another supercomputer still in operation in NASA's facility is Schirra--named after Mercury 7 astronaut Wally Schirra. According to Rupak Biswas, NASA's advanced supercomputing division chief, the Schirra computer is based on the IBM p575+ and has a total of 640 cores. Schirra was evaluated as a possible main supercomputer, but was passed over for SGI equipment. Still, because NASA bought it, the agency operates Schirra on an ongoing basis.
When the Columbia supercomputer was deployed in 2004, it was the first in the world to feature a refrigerator door that allowed for a blue pipe to bring in chilled water to cool the racks, and red pipes to carry out the heated water. Now, says division chief Rupak Biswas, these types of doors on supercomputer racks are the industry standard.
This machine is a part of the supercomputing division's collection of tape drives that, together, archive 20 petabytes of data. Inside the machine, a robot arm reaches in and grabs tapes that have been requested and then brings them out for delivery to the proper personnel.