Changing of the Guard

By Staff
07/10/2007 - 12:00am

On June 26, CISL removed the last frame of bluesky to make way for bluefire, the IBM POWER6 system scheduled to arrive in the second quarter of 2008. At the time of its installation, the new system is expected to increase NCAR’s production computing capacity threefold.

The decommissioned bluesky was an IBM POWER4 p690 system, capable of a peak speed of 6.3 TeraFLOPS, and was instrumental in generating NCAR’s climate simulations for the most recent IPCC reports. When bluesky arrived at NCAR in October 2002, it was the largest computer installation in the history of the organization, and brought NCAR into the top ten fastest supercomputing centers according to the 20th Top500 List.

"Achieving a high position on the Top500 list is unfortunately fleeting,” says Tom Bettge, director of Operations and Services at CISL. “Computing technology advances so rapidly during the four-year lifetime after a supercomputer becomes operational that it quickly drops down in ranking." 

Bluesky served the NCAR and University communities and the Climate Simulation Laboratory for a total of four years and four months. It was a workhorse that contributed 3.8 million CPU hours to the simulations performed for the 4th IPCC Assessment Report, which was released in May 2007. It was decommissioned on Monday, March 5, 2007, and at that time the 28th TOP500 list ranked bluesky as the 193rd most powerful computer in the world. Our current most powerful supercomputer, blueice, is approximately four times as powerful as bluesky was. Once operational, bluefire will yield a similar increase over blueice.

Bluefire will be an IBM POWER6 Cluster based on IBM's pSeries POWER6 p575+ SMP servers.  The system, anticipated to have a peak computation rate in excess of 60 TeraFLOPs, will be comprised of approximately 110 p575+ nodes, each containing 32 4.7 GHz POWER6 processors. 100 nodes will be used for batch computation. The new POWER6 microprocessor is the fastest ever built and provides twice the performance of previous chips, with virtually no increase in power consumption.

Bluefire is expected to be comprised of 16 frames and will be cooled by chilled water. Preparations for the new installation will take nine months, and include preparing the subfloor electrical and plumbing infrastructure in the area vacated by bluesky to accommodate bluefire.

Once operational, the new supercomputer will likely be the most powerful computer dedicated to computation in the Earth sciences. Bluefire will run a significant portion of the simulations for the fifth IPCC Assessment Report (IPCC AR5) and be used to develop, tune, and validate the next generation of climate and weather models.


Air-cooled cluster leaving the building.