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KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee’s new supercomputer has entered the ranks of the computing elite by placing 15th on the newly-released Top500 list of the world’s most powerful computers.

Named Kraken, after a mythical Norse sea monster, the newly unveiled machine has clocked in at a seemingly supernatural peak speed of 166 teraflops, or 166 trillion calculations per second, in just its first few months of operation, which also makes it the world’s second most powerful academic supercomputer.

Ranked in 57th place in the list only six months ago, Kraken is still on the move.

The system, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and part of UT’s National Institute for Computational Science (NICS), will be upgraded further over the next six to 12 months with a final estimated power that would place it in what is known as the petascale — 1,000 trillion calculations per second, and a major milestone in high- performance computing.

“This latest upgrade greatly enhances Kraken’s ability to confront some of science’s most daunting, unanswered questions in a number of fields from astrophysics to climate change to biology,” said Thomas Zacharia, UT vice president for science and technology and an associate laboratory director at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

The Top500 list will be announced officially on Tuesday at the Supercomputing ’08 conference in Austin, Texas. The list is created every six months by UT Knoxville Distinguished Professor Jack Dongarra and his colleagues.

The system, which entered full production in August, is currently the second most powerful supercomputer funded by the NSF TeraGrid — a network of supercomputers across the United States that is one of the world’s largest computational platforms for open scientific research.

“Acceptance of this system moves us much closer to providing the most powerful and best scaling supercomputer to the NSF community, and pushes the total compute capability of the TeraGrid past one petaflop,” said NICS Project Director Phil Andrews.

Kraken already has been flexing its muscles since June, delivering over 40 million hours of computing time to the national science and engineering community. Even more significant, according to Andrews, is that most of the jobs on the machine used at least 2,000 processors, which is the computational equivalent of heavy lifting.

“We’ve been extremely pleased to see such large, effectively full-machine jobs so early in the life cycle of the machine,” Andrews said.

Over the next year, Kraken will be upgraded to more than 100,000 cores, or individual processors, 100 trillion bytes of memory and 32,300 trillion bytes of disk space. It will provide more than 700 million CPU hours per year and close to one petaflop of performance.

Already, researchers are finding Kraken an outstanding research tool.

“The weak scaling for interstellar turbulence runs on Kraken is excellent… this is very good news,” said Alexei Kritsuk, a cosmology researcher at the University of California, San Diego, and a participant in Kraken’s preliminary runs.

In addition, Kraken will support all types of climate simulations such as carbon dioxide cycles and the role of ocean currents. Just as previous modeling efforts in East Tennessee contributed to the research for which the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was awarded a recent Nobel Prize, Kraken will contribute to an understanding of the impacts of human activity on climate change and global warming.

Kraken and NICS stem from a NSF Track II award of $65 million to UT and its partners. NICS won the award in an open competition with leading computing institutions across the country.

The NSF award places NICS and UT among a select group of supercomputing facilities. As a result of the collaborative relationship between UT and ORNL, NICS promises to deliver state-of-the-art scientific research. NICS offers researchers a great opportunity to test code on a system that ultimately will move to the petascale. For more information, visit the NICS Web site at

About the TeraGrid

The TeraGrid, sponsored by the National Science Foundation Office of Cyberinfrastructure, is a partnership of people, resources and services that enables discovery in U.S. science and engineering. Through coordinated policy, grid software, and high-performance network connections, the TeraGrid integrates a distributed set of high-capability computational, data-management and visualization resources to make research more productive. With Science Gateway collaborations and education programs, the TeraGrid also connects and broadens scientific communities.


Jay Mayfield (865-974-9409,