NASA ramps up weather research with supercomputer cluster

NASA’s triples performance of Discover IBM cluster

NASA's Center for Computational Sciences is nearly tripling the performance of a supercomputer it uses to simulate Earth's climate and weather, and our planet's relationship with the Sun.

NASA is deploying a 67-teraflop machine that takes advantage of IBM's iDataPlex servers, new rack-mount products originally developed to serve heavily trafficked social networking sites. The servers use an innovative design that saves on power and cooling costs by placing the servers sideways and using a liquid-cooled rear-door heat exchanger.

At NASA, scientists are integrating the iDataPlex cluster with an existing system, resulting in the addition of 1,024 quad-core Intel Xeon processors and raising performance capabilities from 25 to 67 teraflops (trillion calculations per second).

The supercomputer, known as "Discover," is being used to project Earth's climate over the next century; analyze global weather observations taken by satellite; model solar activity and how it affects weather and communications; and simulate the merging of black holes and formation of solar systems, according to IBM.

"By nearly tripling Discover's performance, NASA scientists will be able to run models with higher resolution and greater fidelity to the underlying physical phenomena," NASA Center for Computational Sciences project manager Dr. Phil Webster says in an IBM press release.

The upgraded Discover, which became available to NASA's users on September 4, is not the space agency's most powerful computer. For example, the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Facility operates a 245-teraflop machine and another with 89.2 teraflops. But NASA plans to at least double the processor count in the iDataPlex portion of the Discover computer in 2009.

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Jon Brodkin

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