New Supercomputer Can Estimate Earthquake Damage

Jasmin Wu/Guardian
Jasmin Wu/Guardian

UCSD’s San Diego Supercomputer Center is one of the first in the world to run a supercomputer flash memory-based storage system. The computer, named Gordon, is a means of providing researchers an efficient way to sift through massive pools of data and obtain models.

Gordon’s installment later this year will help researchers with various projects, ranging from protein structures’ role in blood clots to helping predict the impact of earthquakes.

For example, Southern California Earthquake Center geophysicists use large amounts of data to create models to predict earthquakes’ impact on buildings near fault lines. Gordon can create models by speeding up calculations using data within its expansive memory and high computing power.

“We are excited about the potential of Gordon,” SDSC Interim Director Michael Norman said. “This High Performance Computing system will allow researchers to solve critical data-intensive problems from analysis of genomes for creation of patented drugs, to modeling forecasts for earthquakes.”

SDSC was awarded a five-year $25 million grant to investigate a wide range of data-intensive science — such as astronomy and Earth science — to provide cost-effective data analysis performance, a process equivalent to more than 10 times the efficiency of supercomputers around the world.

When configured, Gordon will feature 245 teraflops of total computing power (one teraflop is a trillion calculations per second), 64 terabytes of digital random access memory and four petabytes of disk storage.

“With the flash memory technology used to reduce latency times in calculations, Gordon should rank among the top 25 supercomputers in the world,” Communications

Representative SDSC Warren Froelich said. “I like to think of it as the ‘world’s largest thumb drive,’ except it actually computes data.”

Researchers have had significant trouble sifting through large storage of data. They wanted a cost-effective that was fast in processing information and calculating solutions.

“Gordon builds on technology now being deployed at the SDSC, including the new Triton Resource and Dash HPC systems,” Norman said. “These systems leverage lightning-fast memory technology already used from the normal digital cameras, thumb drives and laptop computers.”

Gordon features closely resemble those of Dash. In 2009, a SDSC research team won the Storage Challenge competition at the Supercomputing Conference, an international conference on high-performance computing.

The team considered the changes made to Dash and showcased the prototype at the competition.

“The SC09 Storage Challenge provided tremendous results for us,” Froelich said. “Presenting the architecture of Dash to the conference allowed us to perfect the system to create Gordon.”

The excitement for Norman and Froelich, however, was not from the system itself, but its legacy.

“The application for Gordon and the amount of assistance it will provide for scientists and researchers is profound,” Froelich said. “Numerous amounts of projects have popped up with the news of Gordon.”

Readers can contact Varun Chaturvedi at [email protected].

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