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

Feds' 5 petaflop system, Vulcan, ready to use on a time-share basis

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

The supercomputer that's now at the private sector's disposal is Vulcan, an IBM Blue Gene/Q system at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.

Vulcan has nearly 400,000 compute cores and is capable of speeds of up to 5 petaflops (1 petaflop equals 1 quadrillion floating point operations per second). It's ranked as the eighth-fastest computer in the world on the latest Top500 list of the world's most powerful systems.

To get time on this system, a business has to be working on a project that could fulfill what the government sees as three strategic goals:

1. Boost American competitiveness.

2. Accelerate advances in science and technology.

3. Develop the country's skilled high-performance computing (HPC) workforce.

The government has been making compute time available to private companies for years and has worked with Goodyear, Boeing, Navistar Truck and Siemens Energy, among others. Now it's trying to cast a wider net to bring in more businesses. To draw attention to the initiative, it posted an ad on the Federal Business Opportunities website, a clearinghouse of all opportunities for vendors to work with the government.

Since posting the ad last month, Jeff Wolf, chief business development officer at Lawrence Livermore'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 startups to multinational corporations, 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.

Both the U.S. government and business groups have long argued that high-performance computing can improve manufacturing and speed time to market. Using a supercomputer, 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 time-shared access up to the entire 5 petaflops.

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

These companies are using high-performance computing to develop a range of products, but especially ones that require structural mechanics or fluid dynamics modeling and simulation, according to Wolf. 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," he said, "need to either model and simulate a larger system, add more physics to the modeling, increase fidelity or accelerate simulation time to results."

This article, "U.S. Makes a Top 10 Supercomputer Available to Anyone Who Can 'Boost' America," was originally published on 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 email address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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