NASA exploring half-million dollar fast computing challenge

NASA looking for speed through algorithmic enhancements, not hardware

NASA is looking at developing a public competition that would pit competitors in developing fast, powerful computers that would help support advanced applications.

According to NASA, despite tremendous progress made in the past few decades, computational fluid dynamics (CFD) tools in particular are too slow for simulation of complex geometry flows, particularly those involving flow separation and combustion applications. To enable high-fidelity CFD for multi-disciplinary analysis and design, the speed of computation must be increased by orders of magnitude, the space agency said.

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“Opportunities exist to reduce time to solution by orders of magnitude by exploiting algorithmic developments in such areas as grid adaptation, higher-order methods and efficient solution techniques for high performance computing hardware. A potential prize challenge will require that speed gains are to be achieved primarily by algorithmic enhancements, not by hardware (i.e., scaling to larger number of cores),” NASA stated.

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The challenge, if it is actually made official, will provide selected base geometries and flow conditions and the time it takes to perform simulations using what’s known as NASA's FUN3D code. NASA said FUN3D was developed in the late 1980s as a research code. The code’s original purpose was to study existing algorithms and to develop new algorithms for unstructured-grid fluid dynamic simulations.

The idea is that the problem that now takes 3,000 wall-clock hours on 3,000 cores, for example, will reduce to 30 or 3 hours for 100x or 1000x speed up, respectively. “These would be considered to be gains and, thus, Fast Computing capability will allow high-fidelity multidisciplinary analysis to be used in early stages of vehicle development, resulting in novel configurations that are energy efficient and environment friendly toward research and development objectives,” NASA stated.

The prize for demonstrating a LEVEL I - 100x increase is planned to be $225,000 and the purse for demonstrating a LEVEL II – a 1,000x speed increase is planned to be $500,000. Up to 20% of the prize purse may be used to reward competitors for successful completion of a qualification round for both LEVEL I, and, LEVEL II, NASA said.

For now, NASA has issued a Request For Information to determine interest in developing such a fast computing challenge.

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