What applications would you run on a $208M petascale supercomputer?

The National Science Foundation today said it was looking for a few good applications to run on its 200,000 processor core supercomputer known as Blue Waters once it comes online in 2011. 

The Blue Waters petascale supercomputer you may recall got the green light last summer as the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and its National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) finalized a contract with IBM to build the world's first sustained petascale supercomputer.

The NSF said it is now looking to invite research groups that "have a compelling science or engineering challenge that will require petascale computing resources to submit requests for allocations of resources on the Blue Waters system."

According to the NSF  the system could be used to study complex processes like the interaction of the Sun's coronal mass ejections with the Earth's magnetosphere and ionosphere; the formation and evolution of galaxies in the early universe; understanding the chains of reactions that occur with living cells; the physics of supernovae and black-hole systems.

Proposals from or including junior researchers are encouraged as one of the goals of any Blue Waters project is to build a community capable of using petascale computing, the NSF said The NSF expects to award 10 to 12 grants from a fund of about $500,000 this year.

The NSF hopes to look over research projects wanting access to Blue Waters resources so that they can be reviewed by the scientific community and so that there is sufficient time for research groups to prepare to make optimal use of the Blue Waters system, the NSF stated.

To undertake such application development is no small task, the NSF stated.  To effectively use computation at sustained rates of a petaflop/s or more, with memory-resident data of order one petabyte and input-output datasets is a considerable computational science challenge in itself. Some algorithms readily scale across large numbers of processing elements.

The NSF stated: In general, though, the design and implementation of computing codes that can harness all of the resources of a system like Blue Waters to address complex science and engineering problems that are not readily amenable to attack by other means is not trivial. It is anticipated that research groups may require several years of preparation before being ready to exploit the first sustained petaflop systems, the NSF said.

The Blue Waters system is made up of a large number of SMP nodes connected by a very high-bandwidth, low latency interconnect and can be programmed using a MPI or hybrid MPI-OpenMP model, the NSF stated.  Blue Waters will be based on what researchers called PERCS (Productive, Easy-to-use, Reliable Computing System).  PERCs required research and development in new chip technology, interconnect technology, operating systems, compiler, and programming environments.

Blue Waters is expected to deliver sustained performance of more than one petaflop on many real-world scientific and engineering applications. A petaflop equals about 1 quadrillion calculations per second. They will be coupled to more than a petabyte of memory and more than 10 petabytes of disk storage. All of that memory and storage will be globally addressable. The system is also intended to support visualization of large-scale datasets and a large amount of archival storage is associated with the system, the NSF stated.

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