The US's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced on Monday that its supercomputer Sequoia at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) was ranked the world’s most powerful computing system.
Clocking in at 16.32 sustained petaflops, which referred to a quadrillion floating point operations a second, Sequoia earned the number-one ranking on the industry standard Top 500 list of the world’s fastest supercomputers released at the International Supercomputing Conference in Hamburg, Germany.
Sequoia was built for NNSA by US information technology giant IBM and enables simulations that explore phenomena at a level of detail never before possible.
The machine is primarily water-cooled and consists of 98 304 compute nodes, 1.6-million cores and 1.6 petabytes of memory. More powerful than predecessor systems such as ASC Purple and Blue Gene (BG)/L, Sequoia would be roughly 90 times more power efficient than Purple and about eight times more than BG/L, relative to the peak speeds of these systems.
The 96-rack IBM BG/Q system is dedicated to NNSA’s Advanced Simulation and Computing (ASC) programme for stewardship of the US’s nuclear weapons stockpile, a joint effort between LLNL, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.
“Computing platforms like Sequoia help the US keep its nuclear stockpile safe, secure and effective without the need for underground testing,” NNSA administrator Thomas D’Agostino said.
He added that while Sequoia may be the fastest, the underlying computing capabilities it provided increased confidence in the nation’s nuclear deterrent, as the weapons stockpile changed under treaty agreements, a critical part of President Barack Obama’s nuclear security agenda.
“Sequoia will provide a more complete understanding of weapons performance, notably hydrodynamics and properties of materials at extreme pressures and temperatures. In particular, the system will enable suites of highly resolved uncertainty quantification (UQ) calculations to support the effort to extend the life of aging weapons systems,” NNSA director of the ASC programme, Bob Meisner, said.
UQ is the quantitative characterisation and reduction of uncertainty in computer applications by calculating the effects of minor differences in the systems.
The machine would also reduce the time, and therefore costs, associated with studies in stockpile life extension programmes.
Further, Sequoia was expected to enhance NNSA’s ability to sustain the stockpile by resolving significant findings in weapons systems and anticipating and avoiding future problems that result from aging.
This would make future nuclear explosive testing unnecessary.
The insight from supercomputing simulations was also vital to addressing nonproliferation and counterterrorism issues, as well as informing other national security decisions, such as nuclear weapons policy and treaty agreements.
“With supercomputers capable of 16 sustained petaflops, our ability to affect strategic change in areas like life sciences, public safety, energy and transportation that make our world smarter is greater than ever. The improvements in affordability, performance, efficiency and size that Sequoia delivers will also enable a broader set of commercial customers to implement HPC [high performance computing] for their competitive advantage,” IBM Power Systems GM Colin Parris said.