Monday, October 11, 1999

Supercomputer on Maui to gain gigaflops

An upgrade will bring its
capacity into the top
30 in the world

Star-Bulletin staff


The supercomputer on Maui, already one of the world's most powerful, is scheduled for an upgrade that will make it twice as powerful by the start of next year.

The giant IBM RS/6000 SP at the Maui High Performance Computing Center at Kihei is currently ranked 67th most powerful in the world and the upgrade starting later this month will lift it into the top 30, officials at the center said today.

The $5 million worth of new processors being installed in the computer will be capable of 178 billion "floating point operations" a second -- in computerese, 178 gigaflops. They will bring the computer up to a capacity of 300 gigaflops. Basically one gigaflop is the ability to make one billion calculations a second and that is the highest capacity claimed for any commercial desktop computer today, computer experts say. That means 300 gigaflops would be roughly equal to 300 of the fastest office computers all working on the same thing at the same time.

The Kihei computing center is a government-funded operation, managed by the University of New Mexico under a cooperative agreement with the Air Force Research Laboratory. The U.S. Defense Department is partially funding the upgrade.

The Air Force uses the supercomputer for advanced imaging for its Maui space surveillance work from the top of Haleakala. It is also used for six major Defense projects, for weather modeling research by the University of Hawaii and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, for Marine Corps battle simulations and for a range of private-business applications.

They include projects for Rockwell Power Systems, Textron Defense Systems and Phillips Laboratory as well as for some Hawaii businesses that need huge information processing capability.

The machine handles projects that require so many calculations that few other computers in the world could run them. The supercomputer was built in 1993.

The upgrade agreement with International Business Machines Corp. leaves open the possibility of increasing the supercomputer's capacity to as much as 1.5 teraflops. One teraflop is 1,000 gigaflops.

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