Atomic Weapons Establishment buys supercomputer

25 Aug 2010 View Comments
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Supercomputers are capable of processing speeds of over one Petaflop

The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), an organisation which provides and maintains nuclear warheads for the Trident programme, has purchased a third large-scale supercomputer from UK-based IT provider Bull.

Named Blackthorn, this supercomputer will work alongside two other large-scale Bull supercomputers, named Willow, supplied to AWE earlier this year.

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The latest addition is more powerful and is designed to process very large projects, while the Willows will continue working on several smaller projects.

Blackthorn is one of the first supercomputers in the world to use Intel's latest six core Xeon Westmere chip, and comprises 2160 processors in 1080 blades with 750TB of storage. The system can deliver 145 teraflops (trillions of calculations per second). It is believed to be one of the most powerful supercomputers in the UK.

By contrast, the new supercomputer at Southampton University, to date the fastest university-owned supercomputer in the UK, is capable of just 72 teraflops. The fastest supercomputers in the world manage just over one petaflop – 1000 trillion calculations per second.

Ken Atkinson, AWE’s HPC strategy manager commented that the system's resilience was of paramount importance.

"Clearly the performance of the supercomputer was important, but the key for us is its resilient design, which we have tested thoroughly," he began. "We are going to use Blackthorn for large projects which could take several days or even weeks to complete. It was therefore fundamentally important to us that the supercomputer had no single point of failure so it could survive a problem in, say, one of its disks, without the whole computer breaking down."

The system's green credentials were also important to AWE. John Dolphin, computing facilities manager at AWE, said: "Blackthorn has a power consumption, under load, of 380KW which easily beats the 500KW target the organisation had set Bull. This means that the incoming machine is three to four times more powerful than the supercomputer it is replacing, yet it consumes half the electricity."

Fabio Gallo, vice president and director of extreme computing solutions at Bull said: "As ever with a supercomputer the skill has come in ensuring all the components work together in harmony at great speed. We are confident that the combination of the Blackthorn and Willow systems will support AWE’s exacting computing demands for processing complex projects while providing maximum reliability."

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