NASA's 10K-processor simulator to be super

NASA intends to build a new supercomputer that will include more than 10,000 Intel Itanium 2 processors and run the open source Linux operating system, the agency said this week.

Dubbed the Space Exploration Simulator, the system will comprise a cluster of 20 512-processor servers built by Silicon Graphics Inc. of Mountain View, Calif. The simulator will be housed at NASA's Ames Research Center, Calif.

An SGI spokesman said NASA will spend $45 million over three years to build and maintain the system, which will incorporate the company's Altix server platform, NUMAlink interconnect fabric and InfiniteStorage storage area network.

"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," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe.

NASA officials said the Space Exploration Simulator will provide a tenfold performance increase over its current supercomputing capacity. NASA previously partnered with SGI to build a 512-processor Linux supercomputer called Kalpana, named after Kalpana Chawla, one of seven crew members who died Feb. 1, 2003, aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia.

That system, also built with SGI's Altix servers, ranked No. 59 on the most recent Top 500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers. The Kalpana supercomputer has a peak capacity of 3 teraflops.

Currently, the world's fastest supercomputer is Japan's Earth Simulator, built by NEC Corp., using more than 5,000 specially designed processors and operating at a theoretical peak speed of 40 teraflops.

NASA said the Space Exploration Simulator would be built over the next several months. The initial nodes went live in June, effectively doubling the Ames center's capacity.

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