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NERSC Is Partner In Winning Supercomputing's Top Prize

November 17, 1998

Andrew Canning, a member of NERSC's Scientific Computing Group, and collaborating scientists at Oak Ridge National Lab, Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center and University of Bristol (UK) were named winners of the 1998 Gordon Bell Prize for the best achievement in high-performance computing.

The award was announced last Thursday near the end of SC98, an annual conference on high-performance computing and networking. The group's modeling of metallic magnet atoms was run on progressively more powerful Cray T3E supercomputers, starting with NERSC's 512-processor machine, and won the prize with a top performance of 657 Gigaflops (657 billion calculations per second). However, the group later gained access to a machine on Cray's manufacturing center floor and achieved 1.02 Teraflops (trillions of calculations per second).

Funded as one of the U.S. Department of Energy's Grand Challenges, the group developed the computer code to provide a better microscopic understanding of metallic magnetism, which has applications in fields ranging from computer data storage to power generation and utilization.

According to NERSC Division Director Horst Simon, NERSC's strong showing in the awards, the conference technical program and on the exhibition floor clearly demonstrates that Berkeley Lab is taking a lead role in unclassified high-performance computing in the Department of Energy and in the nation.

"As the Department of Energy's national facility for computational science, we see this achievement by the Grand Challenge team as a major breakthrough in high-performance computing," said Simon. "Unlike other recently published records, this is a real application running on an operational production machine and delivering real scientific results. NERSC is proud to have been a partner in this effort."

Also during the SC98 awards ceremony, NERSC's Phil Colella was presented with the 1998 Sidney Fernbach award for "an outstanding contribution in the application of high performance computers using innovative approaches." Finally, the Gordon Bell Prize for best price/performance on a computer went to a team which includes Greg Kilcup, a physics researcher at Ohio State University who has been a visiting researcher at the Lab and is a long-time user of NERSC.

Although parallel supercomputers are the world's fastest computers — capable of performing hundreds of billions of calculations per second — realizing their potential often requires writing complex computer codes as well as reformulating the scientific approach to problems so that the codes scale up efficiently on these types of machines.

In developing this magnetism modeling code for parallel computers, the researchers were forced to rethink their formulation of the basic physical phenomena. The code was originally developed with Intel Paragon machines at ORNL's Center for Computational Science (CCS) in mind and has exhibited linear scale up to 1024-processors on an Intel XPS-150.

"One of the goals of this project is to address critical materials problems on the microstructural scale to better understand the properties of real materials. A major focus of our research is to establish the relationship between technical magnetic properties and microstructure based on fundamental physical principles," said Malcolm Stocks, a scientist in Oak Ridge's Metals and Ceramics Division and leader of the project. "The capability to design magnetic materials with specific and well-defined properties is an essential component of the nation's technological future."

In May and June of this year, the research team ran successively larger calculations on a series of bigger and more powerful Cray supercomputers. After the simulation code attained a speed of 276 Gflops on the Cray T3E-900 512-processor supercomputer at NERSC, the group arranged for use of an even faster T3E-1200 at Cray Research Inc. and achieved 329 Gflops. They were then given dedicated time on a T3E-600 1024-processor machine at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center which allowed them to perform crucial code development work and testing before the final run at 657 Gflops on a T3E-1200 1024-processor machine at a U.S. government site.

"These increases in the performance levels demonstrate both the power and the capabilities of parallel computers — a code can be scaled up so that it not only runs faster but allows us to study larger systems and new phenomena that cannot be studied on smaller machines," said Andrew Canning, a physicist in NERSC's Scientific Computing Group who worked with the Oak Ridge team on this project.

The Gordon Bell Award work was part of a larger Department of Energy Grand Challenge Project on Materials, Methods, Microstructure and Magnetism between ORNL, Ames Laboratory (Iowa), Brookhaven National Laboratory, NERSC and the Center for Computational Science and the Computer Science and Mathematics Divisions at ORNL.

In addition to Canning and Stocks, the team included Balazs Ujfalussy, Xindong Wang, Xiaoguang Zhang, Donald M. C. Nicholson, and William A. Shelton, Oak Ridge National Laboratory; Yang Wang, Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center; and B. L. Gyorffy, H. H. Wills Physics Laboratory, UK.

About NERSC and Berkeley Lab
The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility that serves as the primary high-performance computing center for scientific research sponsored by the Office of Science. Located at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the NERSC Center serves almost 10,000 scientists at national laboratories and universities researching a wide range of problems in climate, fusion energy, materials science, physics, chemistry, computational biology, and other disciplines. Berkeley Lab is a DOE national laboratory located in Berkeley, California. It conducts unclassified scientific research and is managed by the University of California for the U.S. Department of Energy. »Learn more about computing sciences at Berkeley Lab.