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New $20M supercomputer to double Wright-Patterson computing power

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — A $20.8 million supercomputer will nearly double the computing power at the Air Force Research Laboratory Department of Defense Supercomputing Resource Center.

The latest supercomputer, a Cray XC30 named “Lightning” after the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, will have the head-spinning capability to calculate one quadrillion calculations per second, or a numeral one followed by 15 zeros, said Jeff Graham, center director.

The new computer will work in tandem with the $25 million “Spirit” supercomputer, the SGI Altix Ice X, unveiled last July inside the Information Technology Complex at Wright-Patterson.

The supercomputer center, available to Defense Department users, normally has two high performance computers, Graham said.

Expected to arrive in May, the Cray Inc. supercomputer will reduce a backlog to get highly sought after time to test simulations and split second calculations, officials said.

“Our usage on Spirit has been really high,” said Lloyd Slonaker, chief of the advanced technology branch at AFRL.

The addition will provide a back-up in case one of the other computers is down for maintenance, they added.

“It’s not a happy time for us when the system goes down for maintenance,” Graham said.

The new, water-cooled computer may be slightly slower than the reigning supercomputer, Slonaker said. But with the new computer “we’re hoping to be in the top 20” fastest, he said.

When the Spirit was unveiled, officials touted it as the seventh fastest computer in the United States and 14th fastest in the world.

Users have explored how to protect Humvees from roadside improvised explosive devices to showing the rising costs of compensating veterans who suffered hearing loss while in uniform because of exposure to loud aircraft, among other research, Graham said.

AFRL typically keeps a supercomputer four years before it’s shipped off to another user because of rising maintenance costs and to acquire more updated technology, officials said.

“The technology moves along quickly,” Slonaker said.

Supercomputers at Wright-Patterson have been sent, among other places, to Edwards Air Force Base in California, Mississippi State University, and the University of Wisconsin. “It’s not like they end up on the trash heap,” he said.

The expanded capability is part of $50 million the Pentagon is spending to modernize high-performance computing systems. The purchase includes two Cray XC30 systems for the Navy’s Department of Defense Supercomputing Research Center inside the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, a rocket engine test facility in southern Mississippi.
 

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