Press Release

NASA Ensures Columbia Supercomputer Will Continue to Fuel New Science With Latest SGI Technology Infusion

By SpaceRef Editor
November 16, 2006
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NASA Replaces 512-Processor Altix Node With 256-Processor Dual Core Altix 4700; Makes Early Buy-Out of Columbia Leases

In the past two years, NASA’s history-making Columbia supercomputer has delivered 100 million processor hours of productive use. Because Columbia dramatically shortens the time required to solve even complex problems, the system has saved millions of hours of valuable research time for scientists and engineers.

Now, a new technology infusion from SGI (Nasdaq: SGIC – News) will ensure the agency’s history-making Columbia supercomputer will continue to enable scientific breakthroughs for years to come. NASA will replace one of Columbia’s 20 SGI® Altix® 3700 nodes with a new Dual Core SGI® Altix® 4700 system that is more power- and space-efficient than the original system. The agency also bought out leases on approximately half of the entire Columbia installation, a year earlier than scheduled.

NASA’s purchase is a direct result of the Columbia system’s resounding success with hundreds of researchers and engineers, who have leveraged the 10,240-processor SGI® Altix® supercomputer to achieve breakthroughs in such diverse scientific disciplines as computational fluid dynamics, astrophysics, Earth systems, and multi-discipline aerospace system analysis.

At Supercomputing 2006, NASA is highlighting many of its bellwether achievements on Columbia, including the development of a new launch vehicle that someday will carry astronauts back into space, and the simulation and visualization of the gravitational waves created by two colliding black holes. In fact, Columbia has supported all four of the agency’s mission directorates — aeronautics research, exploration systems, science, and space operations.

“Experience throughout the agency has shown that high-end computing resources are essential to helping meet NASA mission goals,” said Rupak Biswas, chief of the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division at Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “Columbia in particular has proven vital to our pursuit of new discoveries and innovations. This latest purchase of SGI technology — along with our decision to buy outright the SGI systems we’ve had on lease for two years — directly answers requests from the research community for NASA to do all it can to keep Columbia available as a resource for leading-edge science well into the future.”

NASA will replace an SGI Altix 3700 node powered by 512 single-core Intel® Itanium® 2 processors with a new SGI® Altix® 4700 system outfitted with 256 Dual Core Intel® Itanium® 2 processors and 1TB of system memory. The new Altix 4700 system delivers the same overall performance as the original system, but requires half the physical footprint and power, and is less costly to cool. Because the Altix system can be replaced without recompiling or reprogramming the system’s 64-bit Linux® operating system and software, NASA expects the installation, which is planned for December, to transparently support ongoing research.

With the lease buy-outs, NASA also will own all Columbia components outright, including its SGI® InfiniteStorage Shared Filesystem CXFS(TM) infrastructure, a 440TB online storage system, and 10 petabytes of tape storage.

“NASA was SGI’s first customer, and after two decades, NASA continues to leverage SGI solutions to reach for new horizons of knowledge and discovery,” said Dave Parry, senior vice president and product general manager, SGI. “We are delighted to see Columbia make such an enormous contribution to research, and we look forward to working even more closely with NASA as we continue to deliver the kind of Innovation for Results that help scientists understand our world and its place in the universe.”

Widely considered one of the most productive and valuable high-performance computing (HPC) resources in government use today, Columbia is ranked by as the eighth most powerful computer on the planet. Unlike traditional supercomputers that can take months or even years to fully bring on line, Columbia was built and fully deployed at NASA Ames in less than 120 days. At the time of its installation at NASA, it was the most powerful production supercomputer ever built.

For more information on SGI Altix systems, visit

SGI — Innovation for Results(TM)

SGI delivers a complete range of high-performance server and storage solutions along with industry-leading professional services and support that enable its customers to overcome the challenges of complex data-intensive workflows and accelerate breakthrough discoveries, innovation and information transformation. SGI helps customers solve their computing challenges whether it’s enhancing the quality of life through drug research, designing and manufacturing safer and more efficient cars and airplanes, studying global climate, providing technologies for homeland security and defense, or helping enterprises manage large data. With offices worldwide, the company is headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., and can be found on the Web at

NOTE: SGI, Altix, the SGI cube and the SGI logo are registered trademarks, and CXFS is a trademark of SGI in the United States and/or other countries worldwide. Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds in several countries. Intel and Itanium are trademarks or registered trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries in the United States and other countries. All other trademarks mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners.

Media Contact:

Lisa Pistacchio, 650.933.5683, SGI PR Hotline: 650.933.7777

SpaceRef staff editor.