Up close with America's national supercomputer, Blue Waters (pictures)
Researchers in need of serious supercomputing power now have one of the most powerful computers in the world at their disposal. CNET Road Trip 2013 checked out Blue Waters.
Deep inside tape storage
CHAMPAIGN, Ill.--While those with high security clearances sometimes have access to powerful government supercomputers, academics, scientists, and engineers often have not. That's why the National Center for Supercomputing Applications launched Blue Waters, one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, in March. Funded with an initial $208 million grant and a five-year operations grant of $151 million by the National Science Foundation, Blue Waters was installed at the National Petascale Computing Facility at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
With the capacity of completing in excess of a quadrillion calculations per second on a sustained basis -- and ten times that at peak performance -- Blue Waters was meant to be ideal for providing the scientific community with the processing speed, data storage, memory, and communication necessary to take on many of the most complex computing tasks.
The supercomputer comprises 22,640 Cray XE6 nodes and 3,072 Cray XK7 nodes with NVIDIA graphics processor acceleration. The XE6 nodes have 64 GB of memory per node, while the XK7s each have 32 GB of memory. Blue Waters also boasts a quick online storage capacity of 26 petabytes, and 380 petabytes of longer term tape data storage.
This is a look inside one of the Spectra T-Finity cabinets that make up the 380 petabytes of long term storage.
The National Petascale Computing Facility was built with 20,000 of usable space for Blue Waters. The facility was built with biometric scanners for security -- so that it can compete for future applications with high-security operations elsewhere -- and can withstand an F3 tornado.
In order to operate Blue Waters, the National Petascale Computing Facility maintains these massive cooling pipes, which altogether circulate 5,400 tons of chilled water with a capacity of 9,300 gallons per minute.
In order to provide Blue Waters with enough power to stay operational 24 hours a day, the National Petascale Computing Facility has 20 transformers -- of which 14 are dedicated to the supercomputer. The system has a capacity of 13,800 volts coming in, and it is approved for a total of 24 megawatts, although it is currently only using about 13.5 megawatts. That means the facility can almost double in size if needed.
A look at the 20,000 square feet of space available for supercomputers at the National Petascale Computing Facility at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Though Blue Waters is already one of the world's most powerful supercomputers, the facility has room to expand.