U.S. makes a Top 10 supercomputer available to anyone who can 'boost' America

Feds' 5 petaflop system, 'Vulcan,' ready to use on a timeshare

The federal government is making one of the most powerful supercomputers in its computing arsenal available to any U.S. businesses that can help make the country more competitive.

The system is the 5 petaflop Vulcan (one petaflop equals one quadrillion floating point operations per second), an IBM Blue Gene/Q system running at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in Livermore, Calif.

Vulcan, which has nearly 400,000 compute cores, is ranked as the eighth-fastest computer in the world, according to the latest Top 500 list.

To get time on this system, a business has to help achieve the government's mission. Its three strategic goals are straightforward:

Boost American competitiveness.

Accelerate advances in science and technology.

Develop the country's high-performance computing-skilled workforce.

The government has been making compute time available for industry use for years. It has worked with Goodyear, Boeing, Navistar Truck, Siemens Energy and others. It is now trying to cast a broader net to bring in more businesses and is using Federal Business Opportunities, the government advertising clearinghouse for vendors, to draw attention.

Since posting the ad last month, Jeff Wolf, chief business development officer at the national lab's HPC Innovation Center, said the lab is "receiving responses daily and expects the rate to increase as we get through the summer into fall."

Businesses seeking time on the supercomputer range from small start-ups to multinational companies, Wolf said.

"We're offering to help companies solve their high-impact business problems, and accelerate their research, development, virtual prototyping and testing of new products and complex systems -- activities that can boost their productivity and global competitiveness," he said.

U.S. government, as well as business groups, have long argued that HPC can improve manufacturing, in particular, and speed time to market. With the use of supercomputers, a business can, for instance, simulate new products and test them in virtual environments instead of building prototypes and then testing them.

Companies can use the government system for proprietary work in exchange for covering "their fair portion of the operating costs of the computer centers," said Wolf.

"Most people we've worked with are amazed at how much computing can be made available and how affordable the costs are, which helps companies overcome the cost barrier," Wolf said.

The lab also has computational scientists on hand to help, as well as scalable software codes. Users can gain timeshared access up to the entire 5 petaflops.

The lab's early engagements on less powerful systems included working with businesses in aerospace, automotive, defense, energy, healthcare, manufacturing and transportation.

These companies are using HPC to develop products, particularly those using structural mechanics or fluid dynamics modeling and simulation, Wolf said. Businesses "are coming to us because they are at the limits of what they can do or afford with commercial modeling and simulation codes," he said.

"These businesses need to either model and simulate a larger system, add more physics to the modeling, increase fidelity or accelerate simulation time-to-results," he said.

This article, U.S. makes a Top 10 supercomputer available to anyone who can 'boost' America, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

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