Clear Skies for Red Storm
A new series of measurements — the next step in evolution of criteria to determine more accurately the efficiency of supercomputers — has rated Sandia National
Laboratories’ Red Storm computer the best in the world in two of six new categories, and very high in two other important categories. Red Storm had previously been judged 6th fastest in the world on the old but more commonly accepted Linpack test. The two first-place benchmarks measure the efficiency of keeping track of data (called random access memory), and of communicating data between processors. This is the equivalent of how well a good basketball team works its offense, rapidly passing the ball to score against an opponent. Red Storm has already modeled how much explosive power it would take to destroy an asteroid targeting earth, how a raging fire would affect critical components in a variety of devices, and how changes in the composition of Earth’s atmosphere affect it. These models are in addition to the basic stockpile calculations the machine is designed to address. An unusual feature of Red Storm’s architecture is that the computer can do both classified and unclassified work with the throw of a few switches. The transfer does not require any movement of discs and is secure. There are no hard drives in any Red Storm processing cabinets. A part or even the whole of the machine can be temporarily devoted to a science problem, and cross over to do national security work. The capability of the machine to put its entire computing weight behind single large jobs enabled one Sandia researcher to get an entire year’s worth of calculations done in a month. Red Storm’s architecture was designed by Sandia computer specialists Jim Tomkins and Bill Camp. The pair’s work has helped Sandia partner Cray sell 15 copies of the supercomputer in various sizes to U.S. government agencies and universities, and customers in Canada, England, Switzerland, and Japan. Cray holds licenses from Sandia to reproduce Red Storm architecture and some system software, says Tomkins. “The operating system was written here, but the I/O [input/output] is Cray’s,” he says.