Trophies for Titan, diversity in STEM jobs, and the cluster challenge

sc12logoOak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) made a splash at November’s SC12 supercomputing conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, demonstrating the lab’s high-performance computing (HPC) achievements over the past year.

The most high-profile event of the conference was the announcement of the Top500 list of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. By reaching 17.59 quadrillion calculations each second, or 17.59 petaflops, in the Linpack benchmarking test, Titan came out on top of the list, making it officially the world’s most powerful system.

With a total power consumption of 8.3-megawatts, Titan also finished in the second runner up position on the Green500 list of the world’s most energy efficient HPC systems.

Although Titan didn’t finish first on the green list, its neighbor did. Beacon, at the National Institute for Computational Sciences, located at ORNL, attained a peak speed of 112,200 gigaflops while consuming only 44.89 kilowatts, or, approximately 2.5 billion calculations per second, per watt.

Talking Titan

ORNL’s Markus Eisenbach and OLCF Project Director Buddy Bland led public discussion panels about the birth of Titan and the scientific role it will play, as well as the coming exascale era in which supercomputers will be capable of a million trillion calculations a second.

“So why did we choose GPUs? It’s really because of the high performance and power efficiency,” said Bland. “We really believe this is part of our path to get to exascale computing.”

He explained that with the addition of the 18,688 NVIDIA K20x accelerated graphical processing units (GPUs), Titan has achieved a higher degree of parallelism than CPU-only systems and demonstrated a technology that will allow more powerful systems in the future.

Diversifying the nest

 As impressive as Titan is, it would never have come to fruition without an equally impressive workforce standing behind it. The key to achieving such a workforce lies within its diversity.

ORNL nuclear physicist Hai Ah Nam and HPC user support specialist Fernanda Foertter participated in a “birds of a feather” session, speaking on “Women in Computing” and stressing the need for better recruiting and retention policies for women working in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Women like the late Ada Lovelace—daughter of the poet Lord Byron and the originator of the first machine-readable algorithm—have paved women’s path in STEM jobs. Known as a “debugging” guru, the late Grace Hopper made contributions in computer science that qualified her to have a supercomputer at Berkeley and a U.S. Navy battleship named after her.

But despite their breakthroughs, Foertter pointed to studies that showed men outnumbering women in STEM nearly 3 to 1.

“Aside from providing additional input and alternative ideas, having a more diverse workforce ultimately leads to a better final product,” Foertter said.

A muster of cluster

Another good recruitment tool is SC itself. Each year the conference holds a Student Cluster Competition where high school and college students team up to make a miniature supercomputer of their own.

ORNL has hired participants from this event in the past and will more than likely continue to do so in the future.

“This competition is what brought me into HPC, where otherwise I probably wouldn’t be,” said HPC systems administrator Dustin Leverman.

In 2007, he himself was a competitor in the cluster challenge, and for the last three years he has been a member of the committee in charge of overseeing the event, and next year he will be the chairman.

“The competition is a unique learning experience for the students,” he said. “And it benefits ORNL by bringing more talent into the lab.”

In addition to ORNL’s tremendous achievements, the lab had a total of 13 scientific papers accepted at the conference, ensuring that next year there will be just as many, if not more, achievements to be made than before.—by Jeremy Rumsey