In a recent post I introduced you to the supercomputer down the hall — seriously, it’s right down the hall from my office and down one flight of stairs. The machine is called Discover, and scientists at Goddard’s NASA Center for Climate Simulation use it to study climate change, weather, and other basic questions about our planet.
Discover’s component parts are spread across several rooms, connected by a high-speed data network. People can network into the system from across Goddard’s campus or the country via data superhighways. In recent weeks, Discover has turned into a construction site. The upgrade now underway will double the system’s computing capacity.
Here’s a quick tour of the project and a refresher on what a supercomputer looks like and how it works.
This is what Discover looks like: metal cabinets, called racks, full of shallow rectangular devices called nodes. Think of a node as the equivalent of a souped-up desktop computer. The heart of each node is a processor, or “core.” (The MacBook Pro laptop I wrote this blog on contains an Intel Core 2 Duo chip with two cores.) The four rows of 18 cabinets, or “racks,” above contain 8,256 cores, or roughly 4,000 times the processing capability of my laptop. Another room contains an additional 32 racks. These two rooms, with 50 racks of processing nodes, comprise the current Discover “cluster,” with a total of 14,968 cores.
This is “Scalable Unit 7,” the newest addition to the Discover cluster. These 18 racks contain 14,400 cores — roughly the same capacity of the 50 preexisting racks of equipment. The reason is that chip manufacturers can now put more processors on the same slab of silicon. Again, back to my MacBook Pro: its chip contains two cores. Older chips in Discover contain up to four cores. Scalable Unit 7 contains nodes with Intel Xeon Westmere processors, which contain SIX cores per chip. The bottom line is you can pack more computing power in the same space. The upgrade will nearly double Discover’s capacity to 29,368 cores, with a peak speed of 320 trillion calculations per second.
Here are the backs of the racks. You can see the nodes, connected by wire and fiber optics. Cooling fans inside the nodes blow hot air toward the backs of the cabinets. Special refrigerated cooling doors will absorb that heat and remove it using Goddard’s chilled water AC system.
That big cable snake will connect Scalable Unit 7 to the rest of the supercomputer. The final incarnation of Discover, with nearly 30,000 cores, will require more than 5 miles of copper wire cable and 6 miles of fiber optics to connect all the components of the system. That includes 12 petabytes of mass data storage capacity, or the equivalent of 3.2 billion iTunes song downloads.
Right now, the installation is still underway. The NCCS computer technologists and researchers will put the new and improved Discover through its paces over the coming months and have it running at full capacity by the end of the year.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________ OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.