Press Release

Innovative Partnership to Revolutionize NASA Supercomputing

By SpaceRef Editor
July 28, 2004
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NASA is working with two major Silicon Valley corporations, SGI and Intel, to dramatically increase the agency’s supercomputing capacity to meet critical national goals. The three organizations have formed a uniquely innovative partnership in which each is contributing resources and capabilities to the joint collaboration.

As part of ‘Project Columbia,’ NASA will integrate a cluster of 20 interconnected SGI® Altix® 512-processor systems, for a total of 10,240 Itanium 2 processors, to significantly increase the agency’s capability and capacity through creation of ‘the Space Exploration Simulator.’ The new machine will be based at NASA Ames Research Center in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. It will provide an estimated 10-fold increase in NASA’s current supercomputing capacity.

“NASA is excited to be working with industry in an innovative way to allow the agency to deploy a versatile capability in supercomputing,” said NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe. “This will enable NASA to meet its immediate mission-critical requirements for return to flight, while building a strong foundation for our space exploration vision and future missions,” he added.

“NASA has a long history in supercomputing dating back to the origins of computational fluid dynamics in the 1980s,” said NASA Ames Director G. Scott Hubbard. “It is exciting to join with an industry team in this innovative venture that will change the very way in which science and simulation are performed by providing researchers with capabilities that, until now, they could only dream about,” he remarked.

The primary purpose of Project Columbia is to revitalize NASA’s supercomputing capability through deployment of an integrated computing, visualization and data storage environment tailored to the NASA mission. Specifically, this project:

ß Responds to the president’s directive to federal agencies and to the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s (OSTP) High-End Computing Revitalization Task Force;
ß Addresses current supercomputer resource limitations that became apparent during the Columbia accident investigation and Shuttle return-to-flight activities

The present collaboration builds upon the highly successful partnership that developed the world’s first 512-processor Linux server, the SGI Altix at NASA Ames Research Center named ‘Kalpana’ after Columbia astronaut and Ames alumna Kalpana Chawla.

Work using that supercomputer has led to major advances in modeling of the Shuttle, as well as in the Earth sciences in high-resolution modeling of the world’s oceans. These advances demonstrated the power of simulation to significantly advance NASA’s goals. NASA’s powerful new supercomputer will allow the agency to continue this important work while, simultaneously, adding vital new projects in the space and life sciences, exploration systems, mission safety and aeronautics.

“NASA’s indomitable spirit of exploration has led us to the moon, to the surface of Mars, and even to the rings of Saturn,” said SGI CEO Bob Bishop. “With Project Columbia, NASA will not only carry mankind further into space, but into new worlds of knowledge and understanding. After two decades of collaboration, NASA and SGI are on the cusp of a new age of scientific method and scientific discovery,” he added.

“The exploration of the universe remains one of man’s greatest challenges,” said Intel Chief Executive Officer Craig Barrett. “The Project Columbia supercomputer designed by NASA, SGI and Intel will enable the world’s brightest designers and scientists to look a little deeper and reach a little farther in their understanding of, and achievements in, space.”

In line with OSTP recommendations, a portion of the new system will be made available on a broad basis to ensure that the nation’s entire science and engineering community has access to this highly advanced supercomputer architecture.

The system will be built and integrated over the next 15 weeks (or 3 months). The first two nodes, in fact, were integrated June 28-30 and became operational in early July. This initial build doubled the current capacity at NASA Ames, allowing NASA to resume work in the sciences, while still aggressively pursuing its engineering objectives in support of the space shuttle program’s return to flight.

SpaceRef staff editor.