NASA currently operates the sixth-most powerful supercomputer on Earth. It serves the entire agency, and dwarfs its predecessor.
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.
While the newest Pleiades racks have 768 cores, most, like those seen here, have 512 cores, and are measured at 6 teraflops.
The input/output room at NASA's advanced supercomputing facility, where the bulk of the Pleiades racks are located, is fully cooled, allowing the machines to stay at a steady temperature.
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.