Titan supercomputer debuts

Posted by Kate Taylor

The Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory has today unveiled its new supercomputer Titan, claimed to be the world's most powerful system.

The Cray XK7 system's 20 petaflops of power will be put to use researching climate change and other data-intensive tasks.

It contains 18,688 nodes, each based around a 16-core AMD Opteron 6274 processor and an NVIDIA Tesla K20 graphics processing unit (GPU) accelerator, and has more than 700 terabytes of memory.

The combination of traditional central processing units and more recent GPUs means Titan occupies the same amount of space as its Jaguar predecessor and uses only marginally more electricity.

"One challenge in supercomputers today is power consumption," says Jeff Nichols, associate laboratory director for computing and computational sciences.

"Combining GPUs and CPUs in a single system requires less power than CPUs alone and is a responsible move toward lowering our carbon footprint. Titan will provide unprecedented computing power for research in energy, climate change, materials and other disciplines to enable scientific leadership."

Because they handle hundreds of calculations simultaneously, GPUs can get through a lot more work than CPUs in a given time. While the 299,008 CPU cores guide simulations, the new NVIDIA GPUs do the 'heavy lifting',  allowing scientific calculations to be run with greater speed and accuracy.

"Titan will allow scientists to simulate physical systems more realistically and in far greater detail," says James Hack, director of ORNL's National Center for Computational Sciences.

"The improvements in simulation fidelity will accelerate progress in a wide range of research areas such as alternative energy and energy efficiency, the identification and development of novel and useful materials and the opportunity for more advanced climate projections."

The system will be used for several different applications, including a nanoscale analysis of important materials such as steels, iron-nickel alloys and advanced permanent magnets that will help drive future electric motors and generators.

Titan will also allow researchers to model large-molecule hydrocarbon fuels such as the gasoline surrogate isooctane; commercially important oxygenated alcohols such as ethanol and butanol; and biofuel surrogates that blend methyl butanoate, methyl decanoate and n-heptane.

|Meanwhile, the Denovo application will model the behavior of neutrons in a nuclear power reactor, simulating a fuel rod through one round of use in a reactor core in 13 hours - a job that took 60 hours on the Jaguar system.

Its most important task, though, is to simulate long-term global climate, enabling researchers to better understand future air quality as well as the effect of particles suspended in the air.

"As scientists are asked to answer not only whether the climate is changing but where and how, the workload for global climate models must grow dramatically," says Kate Evans of ORNL. "Titan will help us address the complexity that will be required in such models."