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It’s official. UT researchers have access to the world’s fastest supercomputer enabling them to tackle the world’s toughest challenges.

The “TOP500” list ranking the world’s fastest supercomputers was released today at the SC12 conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, listing Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) massive new system, named Titan, as the fastest computer.

The list of the 500 fastest computers is published twice yearly by a collaboration between Jack Dongarra, distinguished professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and the director of the Innovative Computing Laboratory, and colleagues at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Mannheim. This is the list’s twentieth anniversary.

Titan, which was revealed to the public just two weeks ago, is a supersized upgrade of ORNL’s previous system—Jaguar. The upgrade makes Titan ten times more powerful than its predecessor.

Titan was benchmarked at 17.59 petaflop/s (quadrillions of calculations per second). It is followed by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Sequoia supercomputer, which ran the benchmark at 16.3 petaflop/s. UT’s Kraken placed twenty-fifth and UT’s Beacon placed 253rd. Both machines are managed by UT’s National Institute for Computational Sciences.

UT professors and a variety of national and international research teams will use Titan’s power to solve a wide range of important problems, from developing more comprehensive and exact climate predictions to designing new drugs. UT and ORNL, which currently share more than fifty appointments, five institutes, and several successful programs, have collaborated for more than fifty years to tackle such difficult research challenges.

“Powerful computers allow us to perform simulations to understand what drives the world around us,” said Jeremy Smith, UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Molecular Biophysics and director of the Center for Molecular Biophysics at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. “The more powerful the computer, the more accurate and detailed our simulations are.”

Titan’s power boost is due to a novel combination of multicore processors and graphic processing unit accelerators (GPUs) also used for computer games. This integration also overcomes some challenges of energy usage, which is critical because supercomputers traditionally consume megawatts of power. Titan was engineered as a hybrid system in order to drastically increase the computational performance, but only minimally increase energy consumption.

“Power (energy) and cooling have become the limiting factor when designing and building even more powerful computing systems,” said Dongarra. “Twenty years ago, power consumption took less than a megawatt. Titan uses about eight megawatts and the next generation could use over a hundred megawatts without major changes to the technology. Addressing this problem will require the creation of new architectures and devices, and better cooling technology. Without such innovations, systems of the size we want to build in the future would be prohibitively expensive to operate.”

Smith is likely to be one of the most frequent users of Titan, as he was with Jaguar. He needs computational power for projects in areas of drug design and biofuels research.

“In drug design, Titan could in principle allow us to select potential drugs that not only hit the desired target but have fewer side effects,” he said. “In biofuel research, we hope to understand the behavior of plant cell walls in greater detail, so that we can propose ways of improving methods of extracting ethanol from plants.”

While Titan may represent progress, it is just a small step closer to the next generation of supercomputers—exascale computing—in which computers perform a billon, billon (1018) calculations per second. Dongarra is leading an international effort to move to that next generation of supercomputing by 2020.

“Science is what is driving us to exascale, not the technology,” said Dongarra. “The science needs are demanding more and more computing power in order to understand the world around us at greater fidelity. In order for us to tackle the kind of scientific problems that we can’t do today, we need exascale computing.”

The supercomputing world is competitive and the TOP500 list is constantly changing as new technology quickly becomes old.

For Dongarra and Smith, witnessing this movement toward exascale is exciting and beneficial for everyone.

“Exascale supercomputing would give us the computing power of fifty Titans,” said Smith. “This would open up whole new vistas for progress in society. At the exascale, for example, we might be able to simulate a whole living cell at atomic detail or find cancer drugs with no toxicity.”

The better and more accurate these simulations are, he said, the more we can find out about many branches of science and medicine, such as climate predictions, nuclear reactor design, supernova explosions, drug design, biofuels, materials design, and other subjects.

To read more about the rankings, visit the TOP500 website.

C O N T A C T :

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460,