Petascale Computer Receives $12 Million

The ERC Supercomputer Center will begin work on a new petascale model named Comet this year

The San Diego Supercomputer Center at Eleanor Roosevelt College in UCSD received a $12 million grant from the National Science Foundation to begin working with a new petascale supercomputer named Comet.

A petascale computer system is capable of performing over one petaflop, or one quadrillion operations per second. At peak performance, Comet can perform at two quadrillion operations a second.

High-performance computing is a staple of scientific research in the fields of physics and astronomy, according to a UC newsroom release.

According to SDSC Director Michael Norman, who serves as the project’s principal investigator, Comet will provide the same depth of research to other fields.

“Comet is all about computing for the 99 percent,” Norman said. “As the world’s first virtualized HPC cluster, it is designed to deliver a significantly increased level of computing capacity and customizability to support data-enabled science and engineering at the campus, regional and national levels and in turn support the entire science and engineering enterprise, including education as well as research.”

Comet is built as a Dell-based computer cluster on Intel Xeon processors. It features 1.5 terabytes of memory and NVIDIA graphics processing units. The computer serves as a successor to the Center’s previous computer cluster, Trestles.

SDSC Deputy Director Richard Moore believes Comet will be just as accessible as Trestles, which is retiring after four years.

“Comet will have all of the features that made Trestles so popular with users but with much more capacity and ease-of-access,” Moore said.

NSF grants are merit-based, awarded after review by a panel of scientists and educators. NSF receives 40,000 research proposals every year, funding about 10,000 of them.

Like other government organizations, NSF has been affected by the federal government shutdown. The agency currently cannot process new applications for grants, nor respond to phone and email inquiries and has furloughed 98.5 percent of its employees. According to the shutdown procedure on the NSF website, the agency will also not be able to make any payments on existing awards until the government resumes normal operations.

Comet is scheduled to begin operations in early 2015.