US retires famous Red Storm supercomputer

Sandia Lab-designed and Cray-built supercomputer known as Red Storm was part of US history

red storm supercomputer
The supercomputer at Sandia National Lab with a vast and hugely successful history is now history itself. 

The Sandia-designed and Cray-built supercomputer known as Red Storm was decommissioned recently but it left behind a history that saw it perform all manner of high-profile tasks, from helping calculate the successful missile interception of a defective spy satellite to figuring out how old the glass was in King Tut's tomb.

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Once the world's second fastest supercomputer (in 2006), one of the machine's greatest benefits was its use of off-the-shelf parts, which made it cheaper to build, repair and upgrade. Red Storm was air-cooled instead of water-cooled, so parts could be replaced and upgrades completed while the machine was running. The only custom component was the Interconnect chip that made it possible to pass information more directly from processor to processor while applications were running. High-memory bandwidth kept the processors from being starved for data, according to a Sandia release on the supercomputer's retirement.

Sandia wrote that another benefit to the systems design was that Red Storm's architecture was upgradeable, from a theoretical peak at birth  of 41.47 teraflops in 2005 to 124.42 teraflops in 2006 to 284.16 teraflops in 2008, because (among other reasons) the machine accommodated single-, dual- and quad-core processors that eventually reached 12,920.  The machine took less than three years to go from concept to shipment and it was, Sandia states, relatively inexpensive to develop and build - $77.5 million.

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A quick look at some of Red Storms history all according to the Sandia web site:

  • 2008 Sandia's Red Storm high-performance computer used to help the U.S. military plan and carry out the successful interception of a defective spy satellite that threatened to fall to Earth. Hundreds of impact calculations used with advanced modeling and simulation tools determined the best way to ensure that the car-sized satellite - traveling at 17,000 miles per hour 153 miles above the Earth - was destroyed with a single missile shot.
  • In 2006 simulations on Red Storm re-created what could have happened 29 million years ago when an asteroid explosion turned Saharan sand into glass. The greenish natural glass, which can still be found scattered across remote stretches of the desert, was used by an artisan in ancient Egypt to carve a scarab that decorates one of the bejeweled breastplates buried in King Tutankhamen's tomb.
  • Other, still classified, Red Storm operations were officially described as solving "pressing national security problems in cyber defense, vulnerability assessments, informatics (network discovery), space systems threats and image processing."
  • One nonclassified use for the machine and its more powerful descendant Jaguar at Oak Ridge was to produce high-fidelity climate models that revealed, for the first time in simulations, swirls of water, or vortices, in the Indian Ocean.
  • Red Storm's design and its descendants have racked up more than a billion dollars in sales for Cray and with 124 other supercomputers are considered decendents of Red Storm.
  • Red Storm was the primary computer in the National Security Computing Center (NSCC), a DOE user facility for classified applications that require high-performance computing.

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