Blue Waters Ready to Handle Floods of Data

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Big Data requires big computing, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is doing its part with the launch of Blue Waters, one of the world’s fastest supercomputers.

U of I held an open house a couple of weeks ago, inviting one and all to visit its National Petascale Computing Facility and kick the tires on the $200 million machine built by Cray and funded by the National Science Foundation.

This is a petaflop machine designed to handle the challenging Big Data requirements associated with a wide range of problems – everything from unraveling complex biological systems to simulating the evolution of the cosmos.

This is where you go to get answers to questions about how the world works,’ says Bill Gropp, a computer science professor and one of four U of I researchers who oversaw the five-year development of the machine,” according to a story in Crain’s Chicago Business. The article goes on to say, “Blue Waters will keep the university in the lead on large-scale computing as researchers from around the country apply to the National Science Foundation to use the machine to crunch data for medical research, astrophysics, aerodynamics, weather forecasting, national security and other uses.”

This is not your everyday supercomputer. The Blue Waters system is a Cray XE/XK hybrid machine made up of AMD 6276 “interlagos” processors with a nominal clock speed of at least 2.3 GHz) and NIVIDIA GK110 Kepler accelerators, all connected by the Cray Gemini torus interconnect.

Blue Waters is capable of a sustained speed of over one petaflop, allowing it to perform more than one quadrillion calculations per second. The water-cooled system is housed in 276 black cabinets topped by silvery coolant pipes.

In addition to being really fast, Blue Waters has more than enough memory to handle Big Data requirements – 1.5 petabytes of total system memory and 300 petabytes of long-term storage.

In the Crain’s article, Gropp is quoted as saying, “We want people to ask, ‘What could you do if you could put massive amounts of data on a system and access it in microseconds?’”

The short answer is, “More than you can ever imagine.”

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