What’s in a (Supercomputer) Name?

Think “discovery” and you can see why NERSC, the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, chooses supercomputer names based on famous scientists and inventors. Operated by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and serving the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, NERSC has a long history with high-end Cray supercomputers and using them to drive scientific discovery.

Their latest Cray machine “Edison”, a Cray® XC30™ supercomputer named after Thomas Edison, has been up and running for much of 2013 with a formal dedication ceremony held last week at Berkeley Lab in California. Supercomputer predecessors at NERSC include “Hopper”, a Cray® XE6™ named after innovating computer scientist Grace Hopper, and “Franklin”, a Cray® XT4™, named after pioneering legend Benjamin Franklin, not to mention a string of other machines over the last four decades. Check out the great online calendar celebrating NERSC’s 40th anniversary and demonstrating the depth of their supercomputing history including iconic HPC architectures like the Cray-1, Cray-2, Cray Y-MP C90, Cray J90 and Cray T3E-900.

With 40+ years of experience operating a top level computing center, NERSC had the domain knowledge to bring up a sophisticated new system efficiently. After Edison was installed and tested it was quickly opened up for research, fully loaded with a busy job schedule which enabled millions of processor hours of computation before it even got to a public dedication ceremony.

With the intent of creating a “science gateway” to upwards of 700 projects and their 5,000 researchers, Edison was dedicated during this year’s annual edition of NUG – the NERSC Users Group meeting at Berkeley Lab in February. Edison is configured with over 124,000 processing cores and 332 terabytes of memory to deliver a theoretical peak performance of ~2.39 petaflops. Although the management team in the Bay Area will tell you that their goal is enabling science that benefits society, they procured the Cray XC30 system to deliver sustained and scalable performance across the numerous types of codes that they need to support for their broad and deep user community.

The scientists at Berkeley Lab use supercomputers to allow them to do research and simulations that would otherwise be impossible, too expensive or too dangerous. Unlike dedicated-function compute machines, Edison was chosen and configured to supply the DOE’s Office of Science with high performance computing, communications and storage across a broad range of domains. Edison will target scientific breakthroughs in the challenging and diverse areas of combustion, climate modeling, fusion energy, materials science, physics, chemistry, computational biology and more.

See Edison in action and hear from a variety of scientists firsthand by watching this quick 10-minute video recorded on-site at NERSC with industry luminaries. The video details specific example applications including simulations of turbulent combustion, dark matter cosmology research, and high definition X-ray imaging, as well as the big bang and the very origins of the universe.

NERSC keeps raising the bar serving science. What will their next Cray supercomputer name be? And what amazing breakthroughs are possible over the next 40 years?