Press Release

Powered by Silicon Graphics, Pleiades Supercomputer Fuels NASA’s Journey to Moon, Then Mars

By SpaceRef Editor
November 20, 2008
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Ranked No. 3 in the World, New SGI Altix ICE System Lets Researchers Attack Problems Without Compromises

Supercomputing 2008, Booth 1009 — With its sights set on colonizing the moon and eventually sending astronauts to Mars, NASA is calling on researchers to solve some of the most complex science and engineering problems in history.

Key to that effort is Pleiades, the world’s third fastest supercomputer, installed at the NASA Advanced Supercomputing facility at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. The 51,200-core SGI(R) Altix(R) ICE 8200EX system from Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) (NASDAQ:SGIC) is capable of generating a theoretical peak of 609 trillion operations per second (TeraFLOPS).

Today, Pleiades made its debut on the Top500 list ( with demonstrated performance of 487 TeraFLOPS on the LINPACK benchmark. The results make Pleiades the world’s most powerful general-purpose supercomputer.

Pleiades offers researchers unprecedented resources for a range of projects in support of all of NASA’s mission directorates, though most of the work, at least initially, is expected to support the development of NASA’s next-generation space fleet. Known as Project Constellation, the manned space exploration effort will involve years of sophisticated, high-fidelity scientific and engineering studies, from virtually testing re-entry vehicle options to designing safety systems.

Researchers will even use Pleiades to simulate catastrophic failures — specifically so they can design systems and procedures to prevent problems that might threaten the safety and survival of astronauts.

Pleiades supplements Columbia, the 14,336-core SGI(R) Altix(R) system that debuted in 2004 as the world’s second-fastest computer. Columbia helped NASA successfully resume its Space Shuttle program while saving millions of hours of research time on many other projects.

“With Pleiades, we can do six times the work that we could on Columbia,” said Rupak Biswas, acting chief of the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) Division. “Now our researchers are making their projects as large and complex as they need, without having to compromise simulation completeness or fidelity to make room or time for other projects. We’re already seeing real productivity benefits that will help keep Project Constellation and other NASA research initiatives on schedule.”

“For 50 years, no one has looked farther or reached further than NASA,” said Silicon Graphics CEO Robert “Bo” Ewald. “We were proud to count NASA as our very first customer more than a quarter century ago, and we are just as proud today to supply the agency with Pleiades — the supercomputer that will help usher in the next great age of space exploration.”

“To witness the state of the art in supercomputing, organizations need look no further than Pleiades,” said Richard Dracott, General Manager of High Performance Computing at Intel. “This powerful system leverages the scalability and energy efficiency of Intel(R) Xeon(R) processors and the rapidly deployable, high-productivity SGI Altix ICE platform. Intel congratulates NASA and Silicon Graphics for once again making history with a supercomputer that not only will help shape our future here on Earth, but will fuel our exploration of new worlds that await our discovery.”

Additional Information:

— Pleiades has more than doubled in power and capacity since this summer, when Silicon Graphics and NASA installed the system’s initial 40 SGI(R) Altix(R) ICE racks. The rapid expansion resulted from a joint effort by NASA, Silicon Graphics and Benchmark Electronics.

— Today, 100 SGI Altix ICE racks have been installed, giving researchers access to 12,800 Quad-Core Intel(R) Xeon(R) 5300 Series processors, 50 Terabytes (TB) of memory, 900TB of SGI(R) InfiniteStorage 15000 InfiniBand RAID arrays, and a 115TB SGI(R) InfiniteStorage NEXIS NAS solution. Pleiades runs SUSE Linux Enterprise Server.

— In producing Pleiades, Silicon Graphics partnered with Mellanox Technologies to create the world’s largest InfiniBand (IB) cluster with more than 12,800 end-point nodes,(1) connected via more than 20 miles of double data rate IB cables. The Pleiades system’s IB interconnect is more than 70 percent larger than the next two largest systems combined.(2) In total, it supports over 128TBits/second of simultaneous, nearest-neighbor IB communications bandwidth.

— Pleiades is Silicon Graphics’ largest deployed SGI Altix ICE system — 3.5 times larger than any other SGI Altix ICE installation. It comprises a total of 6,400 dual-socket computational blades, which were developed, produced and deployed in partnership with SuperMicro Computer, Inc.

— Earlier this month, NASA achieved rapid productive deployment when it turned the bulk of Pleiades (32,000 cores) over to users for full-time, productive research. This followed months of rigorous testing, during which NASA maintained multiple environments so researchers could use between 4,096 and 14,000 cores for production work, while administrators tested the Lustre filesystem, the InfiniBand interconnect fabric, and other components.

— In addition to Constellation Program projects, NASA is using Pleiades to model the evolution of galaxies, refine visualization methods for the V-22 Osprey Tiltrotor aircraft, and conduct complex calculations to determine how life first originated on Earth.

Silicon Graphics, Inc.

Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI) (NASDAQ:SGIC) , is a leader in high-performance computing. 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 solutions help 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 Sunnyvale, California, and can be found on the Web at

Note: SGI corporate phone numbers have changed. The new main number for SGI corporate headquarters is 408-524-1980. Effective immediately, all numbers featuring the 650 area code are no longer in service.

(C) 2008 SGI. All rights reserved. SGI, the SGI cube, Altix and the SGI logo are registered trademarks of SGI in the United States and/or other countries worldwide. Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds in several countries. Intel, Xeon and Itanium are trademarks or registered trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries in the United States and other countries. Novell is a registered trademark, and SUSE is a trademark of Novell, Inc. in the United States and other countries. All other trademarks mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners.

Editor’s Note

(1) Dual-plane interconnect results in two IB end-points per compute blade plus storage nodes

(2) The Pleiades IB interconnect is 70 percent larger than those utilized by Los Alamos National Laboratory Roadrunner and the Texas Advanced Computing Center

SpaceRef staff editor.