San Diego Supercomputer Center Introduces New Computing Machine

San Diego Supercomputer Center launched its new supercomputer system, Comet, on its 30th anniversary last week. Looking at processing power and accessibility, Comet is said to be one of the most powerful computing machines in the nation.

Scientific Applications Lead Robert Sinkovits said he believes that Comet is an invaluable asset to researchers in all disciplines.

“Comet is a national resource that is available free of charge to all academic researchers in the United States,” Sinkovits told the UCSD Guardian. “Although it’s not a UCSD resource, many campus researchers in disciplines ranging from physics, chemistry and engineering to genomics and political science are using Comet. UCSD faculty also take advantage of proximity to the supercomputer center to launch collaborations with our staff to help them make best use of Comet.”

The new computing machine is available to anyone, based on an outside peer review process which determines who will receive time to use the computer.

One of the projects that will use Comet is called Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment, which is a virtual system that scientists and researchers use to share computing data, resources and expertise. XSEDE’s Communications Director Travis Tate told the Guardian that Comet will be an integral part of XSEDE moving forward.

“Comet, and SDSC more generally, are extremely important to the XSEDE project,” Tate said.
“Part of SDSC getting Comet was that they had to allocate a certain percentage to being an XSEDE resource.”

Comet is regarded as a great resource for its powerful computing ability. Generally the power of supercomputers is judged by the number of floating particle math operations it can achieve per second, this is shortened to “Flops.”

“Comet has a peak performance of two Petaflops — 2000 trillion Flops — making it nearly seven times as powerful as Gordon, our older supercomputer,” Sinkovits said.

With this processing ability, Comet can provide calculations for a number of projects in fields ranging from physics to research in sociology.

To facilitate the many uses of Comet, SDSC uses an interface called Science Gateways which allows users to run jobs on the computer but skip over the programming aspects and focus on their research.

Each of the systems uses two Xeon processors, and are equipped with 128 gigabytes of RAM using Dell integrations. It can distribute the load of complex calculations throughout the systems, which is called Dell Cluster integration.

“Comet will greatly expand the accessibility and impact of high-performance computing to the nation’s open science researchers by offering a comprehensive set of capabilities in one integrated system,” John Mullen, vice president and general manager of Dell’s North America Commercial Sales, told UCSD News.

The machine, which is nearly the size of two buses, will serve 10,000 researchers and scientists a year.

“Comet was built to support ‘the long tail of science,’ meaning users with small-to-medium sized computational requirements that are not being met by more traditional supercomputers, which typically focus on the very largest users,” Sinkovits said.

The National Science Foundation granted SDSC a total of $24 million, $12 million to build and another $12 million to run Comet.