2021 OLCF user meeting shares successes, looks ahead to Frontier

The Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF), a US Department of Energy Office of Science user facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), marked its 17th annual user meeting on June 22–24 with success stories in the midst of a global pandemic and sneak peeks of the home for the next world-leading supercomputer.

A total of 167 people attended over the course of the three-day event. As in 2020, the meeting was held entirely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The past year has been very unusual,” said Gina Tourassi, director of the National Center for Computational Sciences(NCCS), which manages the OLCF, in her welcome to attendees. “It has tested the way we operate as a facility. But at the OLCF, nothing stopped.”

The OLCF provided nearly 40 million hours of computing time in 2020, including 2 million hours for projects related to COVID-19. Attendees heard from some of the users who conducted those projects, along with leaders of other studies.

Jens Glaser, an NCCS computational scientist, detailed how he and his team used Summit, the OLCF’s 200-petaflop IBM AC922 system and fastest computer in the United States, to simulate docking molecules from more than 2.6 billion compounds to proteins of the virus that causes COVID-19. The study promises to help speed the race to find treatments for the disease.

“A computational capability to accelerate the initial stages of drug discovery is essential to combat the current and future pandemics,” Glaser said.

Other talks covered topics such as breakthrough molecular dynamics simulations on Summit that won researchers a Gordon Bell Prize—the Association of Computing Machinery’s highest award—and the simulation of gravitational wavesto shed light on the origins of black holes. Users also had the opportunity to chat one on one with OLCF experts in tabletop discussions.

“Even though we couldn’t meet in person, we still found a way for users to ask questions and learn more about ways the OLCF can meet their specific needs,” said Ashley Barker, head of the OLCF’s Operations Section.

The meeting’s final day provided updates on Frontier, the OLCF’s forthcoming HPE Cray system that promises to be the world’s first exascale supercomputer at speeds of up to 1.5 exaflops when it opens to full user operations in 2022.

Matt Sieger, the OLCF’s deputy project director, led attendees on a virtual tour of Frontier’s future home in the OLCF data center.

“It’s a pretty remarkable space,” Sieger said.

The meeting brought two new members to the OLCF’s User Group Executive Board: Steven Gottlieb, an Indiana University professor emeritus, and ORNL’s Sara Isbill.

The board also announced its new chair, Eric Nielsen, a senior research scientist at the NASA Langley Research Center. Nielsen succeeds ORNL’s Sarat Sreepathi.

The meeting’s full agenda, along with videos and slides from each talk, can be found on the user meeting webpage.

UT-Battelle LLC manages ORNL for the 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 https://energy.gov/science.