November 7 event to recognize supercomputing center’s contributions to science and energy security

Since its early days, the OLCF has consistently delivered supercomputers of unprecedented capability to the scientific community on behalf of DOE.

Twenty-five years ago, established computing architectures in the United States were approaching their limits, while the country’s need for computing power to solve challenging problems in science, energy, and national security continued to grow.

Out of this period of technological transition emerged the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF), a US Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility located at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).

On November 7, the OLCF is celebrating 25 years at the forefront of high-performance computing (HPC). The ORNL-hosted event for staff will recognize the technical accomplishments and scientific achievements that have marked the OLCF’s history since its 1992 founding as the Center for Computational Sciences. The day will feature speakers from government, academia, and industry and will coincide with an invited lecture by Nobel Laureate Martin Karplus.

Since its early days, the OLCF has consistently delivered supercomputers of unprecedented capability to the scientific community on behalf of DOE—contributing to a rapid evolution in scientific computing that has produced a millionfold increase in computing power. This rise has included the launch of the first teraflop system (IBM Power3 Eagle) for open science, the science community’s first petaflop system (Cray XT5 Jaguar), and two top-ranked machines on the TOP500 list, including the OLCF’s current leadership-class machine, Titan. Additionally, the next chapter in the OLCF’s legacy is set to begin with the deployment of Summit, a pre-exascale system capable of more than five times the performance of Titan.

Scientists, in turn, have used these versatile systems to expand the scale and scope of research, fill crucial gaps in scientific knowledge, and solve critical problems in areas as diverse as biology, advanced materials, climate, and nuclear physics. Over the years, these contributions have helped to solidify modeling and simulation as an essential standard of modern science.

In the mid-1990s, the OLCF worked to establish cutting-edge computing architectures at extreme scales. The center stood up a series of Intel systems, culminating with the 150-gigaflop Paragon XP/S 150, to help kickstart the era of massively parallel supercomputers, systems designed to solve large problems by carrying out simultaneous computation using many processors.

Working with scientific users, OLCF staff helped showcase the benefits of parallel computing for research by getting scientific applications to run faster, with early projects focusing on groundwater remediation, materials modeling, and quantum structure. World-class science results followed as the number of applications grew.

Other problems addressed by early OLCF systems, which included systems designed by IBM, Compaq, and Cray, provided insight into questions such as how solids melt, how combustion occurs in engines, and how air flows over a plane’s wing. The arrival of each new supercomputer presented opportunities and challenges for technical staff, who facilitated the work of scientific users and contributed technical papers to the field documenting innovations and lessons learned.

In the early 2000s, the construction of a new office building on the ORNL campus with a 40,000-square-foot datacenter gave the OLCF the room it needed to lead HPC into the new century. The center deployed a Cray system called Jaguar that would undergo multiple upgrades, breaking the petaflop barrier in 2008 and reaching No. 1 on the TOP500 list in 2009. At its apex in 2012, Jaguar boasted nearly 300,000 cores and a theoretical peak of 3.3 petaflops, allowing unprecedented investigations into phenomena like high-temperature superconductivity. Beyond its technical power, the machine was widely recognized for its scientific productivity.

The OLCF’s next move, however, transformed Jaguar into something else entirely. The combinations of 16-core processors and GPU accelerators marked the birth of Titan, a hybrid supercomputer designed to push parallelism to a new level.

Conceived by the OLCF and Cray as the answer to two seemingly incompatible objectives—a significant increase in computational power for a minimal increase in energy consumption—Titan debuted at No. 1 on the TOP500 list in November 2012. Specifically, Titan realized 10 times the performance of Jaguar with only a 20 percent increase in electricity consumption. With the 27-petaflop Titan, researchers have contributed to the development of better biofuels, more efficient utility-scale gas turbines, and hazard maps for earthquake-prone regions. Work on Titan has led to thousands of peer-reviewed scientific journal articles and has contributed to a safer, more energy-secure future.

Twenty-five years in, the OLCF continues to look forward. Summit, set to deploy in 2018, will expand on Titan’s groundbreaking hybrid architecture, leveraging advances in processor power, bandwidth, and data movement to deliver a system capable of probing science problems at unprecedented scale. In addition to traditional modeling and simulation, Summit will be well suited to capitalize on advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence to accelerate research.

Underlying the OLCF’s legacy of exponential growth in computing power and scientific productivity is a highly skilled staff working with HPC vendors, scientific users, and others dedicated to the greater goals of science and the nation. As the bar continues to rise, the OLCF remains committed to its founding mission to deliver unprecedented tools for scientific discovery and global competitiveness.

For more on the OLCF’s history, see the interactive timeline.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is supported by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit