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New Cray for Nuclear Arms May Be Fastest Supercomputer

New Cray for Nuclear Arms May Be Fastest Supercomputer
By Dan Heilman

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Cray's Trinity supercomputer, to be based at Los Alamos National Laboratory, will differ from most high-performance computers in that it will be vertically integrated. Companies such as Amazon and Facebook typically use parallel processing, which breaks computing jobs into small bits to be farmed into multiple commodity servers at the same time.

The ongoing need for worldwide nuclear security has led to a big win for Seattle supercomputer giant Cray Inc. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) contracted with Cray in a deal worth $174 million for a supercomputer that it says will be used for managing nuclear weapons.

The supercomputer, called Trinity, is expected to be one of the world's fastest. It will let the NNSA manage the country's stockpile of nuclear weapons without having to use underground testing. Trinity will be located at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Power to Spare

Through a phased deployment, Cray will provide the NNSA with a multi-petaflop supercomputing system and a multi-petabyte Cray Sonexion storage system.

The Sonexion system will include 82 petabytes of capacity and 1.7 terabytes per second of sustained performance. The system allows scalability from five gigabytes per second to more than a terabyte per second in a single file system.

Trinity will differ from most high-performance computers in that it will be vertically integrated, according to Cray. Internet companies such as Amazon and Facebook typically use parallel processing, which breaks computing jobs into small bits to be farmed into multiple commodity servers at the same time.

"For certain applications, such as modeling, simulation and certain types of analytics, a vertically integrated system works best. That's because those applications often rely on sequential calculations that must be completed in a certain order," said Cray CEO Peter Ungaro, in a statement.

Teaming with Sandia, Los Alamos

As part of the NNSA Advanced Simulation and Computing Program, Trinity will require cooperation between the Los Alamos National Laboratory's New Mexico Alliance for Computing at Extreme Scale and the Sandia National Laboratories.

Both Los Alamos and Sandia have history with Cray going back to the beginning of the supercomputing era -- most recently with the Cielo platform, the supercomputer currently used by NNSA in Los Alamos.

Cray plans on delivering Trinity in about a year. The supercomputer is projected to be at least eight times faster than Cielo.

World's Fastest?

Once up and running, Trinity will help the NNSA to keep stockpiles safe, secure and reliable, possibly by using virtual simulations to test the performance of the weapons.

Virtual simulation is necessary because it does away with underground testing without affecting the NNSA's ability to understand how nuclear weapons work and how they age. Cray didn’t say whether Trinity would have a role in managing weapons in case of a nuclear conflict.

Cray didn’t disclose Trinity’s processing speed, but it could end up being among the fastest supercomputers in the world. The world's fastest computer currently is the China-made Tianhe-2, located in that country's National University of Defense Technology. That machine is capable of 33.86 petaflops at peak performance.

The second fastest is Cray’s Titan, which is employed by the U.S. Department of Energy at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and which peaks at 17.59 petaflops.

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