Users connect to discuss current systems and prepare for the future of supercomputing

In October, the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility — a Department of Energy Office of Science user facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory — hosted its 19th annual user meeting dedicated to sharing achievements, updates and best practices for the facility’s supercomputers. It also provided a sneak peek of plans for the OLCF’s next-generation system, currently dubbed OLCF-6.

The 2023 edition marked a return to in-person activities after the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the last three conferences to be fully remote. Held on Oct. 17-18, the hybrid event drew 118 computational scientists from the U.S. to ORNL’s main campus, along with 42 participants who joined in remotely from around the world.

“As we moved back to offering an in-person meeting, we did not want to lose the participation we saw from users who are unable to travel to ORNL,” said Ashley Barker, section head of operations for OLCF. “We believe there is still a lot of value for users to participate virtually, and we wanted to make sure they had a good experience and were able to participate in the meeting as much as possible.”

The conference’s first day focused on news and achievements related to the OLCF’s petascale system, Summit, the operation of which has been extended through October 2024 with the new SummitPLUS allocation program. Alpine, Summit’s current file system, will be officially decommissioned on Jan. 1, 2024, to make way for a new file system. OLCF users were asked to remove their data from Alpine by the end of the year.

The first day also included a presentation from the University of California, San Diego’s Nicholas Wauer. “Pushing the boundaries of ultra large-scale molecular simulations and unraveling the mechanisms behind aerosol transmission of SARS-CoV-2” described a 1.05-billion-atom system, which is among the largest biochemical systems simulated at the atomic level. The project is led by Rommie Amaro, who also serves as principal investigator of the Amaro Lab at UCSD. The simulation described in the talk was modeled on Summit and shows how viral particles behave when suspended as aerosols. The results are vital to studying infectious diseases and earned Amaro’s team a spot as Gordon Bell finalists for outstanding COVID-19 computing research.

The afternoon included an introduction to SummitPLUS allocations, training updates and an overview of OLCF communications. Lunch-and-learn sessions were hosted outside the meeting room, and OLCF staff members led different conversations at each table with topics ranging from data storage needs to profiling tools.

The meeting's poster session allowed for users to connect and discuss their individual projects.

The poster session allowed users to connect and discuss their individual work. Credit: Carol Morgan/ORNL

To end the day, OLCF staff led facility tours and hosted a poster showcase on ORNL’s Main Street. Over two dozen posters presented topics ranging from cosmic simulations to how turbulence affects jet engine efficiency, providing an opportunity for users to discuss their specific projects.

The second day featured success stories and status updates from OLCF staff as they reflected on the first year of operation for Frontier, the OLCF’s exascale-class system. Throughout the year, users were encouraged to visit OLCF’s office hours, which is a user support system accessible through myOLCF. Users can register for office hours to ask any facility-related question, helping to build connections between users and staff.

Travis Humble, distinguished scientist at ORNL and director of the Quantum Science Center, presented an overview of QSC’s new user program, a forum for QSC similar to OLCF’s user meeting.

The second day, Oct. 18, also coincided with Exascale Day, a DOE initiative created in 2019 to honor scientists and researchers whose projects make groundbreaking discoveries and advancements on exascale systems.

One such project is a full-scale simulation run by GE Aerospace to support development of a new open-fan engine architecture for commercial aircraft. Stephan Priebe, a computational scientist for GE Aerospace, presented specifics on the project, which aims to help the commercial aviation industry achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 with revolutionary new engine efficiency technologies. The simulation models how turbulence impedes jet engine efficiency, which is a significant factor in jet fuel waste. By using Frontier to simulate realistic conditions in a jet engine, GE Aerospace can accelerate open fan engine development.

“It would be impossible to do what we’re doing without the power of Frontier,” Priebe said. “Having the machine and access to it is vital for GE Aerospace’s research, so achieving exascale is particularly amazing for us.”

Stephan Priebe of GE Aerospace presented the details of an aircraft-related simulation run on Frontier.

Stephan Priebe of GE Aerospace presented the details of an aircraft-related simulation that was run on Frontier. Credit: Carol Morgan/ORNL

Priebe attended in person, and this marked his first time at ORNL and seeing the Frontier system.

“It was just excellent, seeing the computer. The OLCF staff have been extremely helpful remotely, but it’s a whole new experience to see Frontier for yourself,” he said.

Users looked to the future to wrap up the meeting, receiving a brief presentation on OLCF’s next supercomputer, OLCF-6. The computer is slated for deployment in 2028.

Three new members were announced for the OLCF User Group board: Michael Zingale of State University of New York at Stony Brook, Scott Callaghan of the University of Southern California, and Emily Belli of General Atomics. The OUG executive board comprises 10 users who represent the OLCF user community and provide feedback to OLCF staff.

This year’s agenda and other information including recorded presentations can be found on the meeting’s webpage. Details about the 2024 OLCF User Meeting will be released early next year.

Carol Morgan/ORNL

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for DOE’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