Gadgets

Need a supercomputer? Maybe you can build it from salvaged parts

Above: Roadrunner, a hybrid supercomputer built in 2008 at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Image Credit: LANL

Sometimes the way to build a supercomputer is to assemble it from parts.

Cerillos was the long-serving 14,400-core supercomputer that the Los Alamos National Laboratory used years. It was recently mothballed by the iconic weapons lab which is based in New Mexico. But rather than scrap it completely, researchers are salvaging some of its parts to build a new supercomputer.

That’s Narwahl, Carnegie Mellon University’s new computing cluster, which it built with leftover parts from Cerillos.

Narwahl is now being configured for heavy research into mass-scale computer systems with an eye toward developing educational research for supercomputers. Narwahl is pretty righteous in its own right, built from the ground up with 448 blade computers salvaged from Cerillos. Narwahl includes 1,792 processor cores.

Cerillos never got the attention of its bigger sibling: the Roadrunner supercomputer. Roadrunner was one of the world’s fastest computers, in its time, and was used in the construction of the world’s most powerful nuclear bombs and warheads. In 2008, according to researchers, Roadrunner became the world’s first computer to perform 1 billion calculations per second, known as a petaflop. Roadrunner had 122,400 cores.

“With Narwhal, we open a new front — assistance with large-scale computer systems software education. Roadrunner and Cerrillos may be retired, but even a sliver of these machines’ core capabilities is more capable than most educational computing resources,” Carnegie Mellon said.

Supercomputers studying supercomputers. Indeed, Narwahl, a highbrow whose pedigree is of the enviable sort, was created, in part, by the generosity of the U.S. Department of Energy.

We don’t know the Narwahl’s pricetag so far, but Roadrunner cost $120 million when it was built 8 years ago. And Roadrunner, named after New Mexico’s state bird, was instrumental to sustaining America’s nuclear deterrent by providing researchers astonishing scientific insight into the physics of nuclear explosions.

For now, Narwahl will support nonclassified research at the CMU campus in Pittsburgh. Educators at CMU are optimistic, eager even, to see if Narwahl’s daisy chain approach pays the dividends that Cerillos and Roadrunner did for the design and effects for nuclear bomb research.

CMU’s Garth Gibson said the Narwahl cluster will be an incredible resource for the study of supercomputers for both students and researchers.

“With Narwhal, we open a new front — assistance with large-scale computer systems software education,” said Gibson. “Roadrunner and Cerrillos may be retired, but even a sliver of these machines’ core capabilities is more capable than most educational computing resources.”


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