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Pushing the Frontera of Science at Texas Advanced Computing Center

Frontera has the kind of computational power required to solve some pressing problems that we all face.

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Dell EMC

The TACC “Frontera” supercomputer — also the Spanish word for “frontier” — will fuel important advances in all fields of science — from A to Z, or astrophysics to zoology. Some of the projects that are likely to run on Frontera include analyses of particle collisions from the Large Hadron Collider, global climate modeling, improved hurricane forecasting and multi-messenger astronomy.

OK, if you’re not in the business of serious science, why should you care about a supercomputer that can perform billions of calculations in a single second? In short, because it’s going to take that kind of computational power to solve some pressing problems that we all face.

For example, supercomputers have been instrumental in the design of a mutant enzyme that eats plastic bottles. This research could lead to the development of industrial-scale plastic recycling for bottles and carpet that are now a major source of waste and environmental pollution.[1]

At Dell Technologies, plastic recycling is a cause that is close to our hearts. As a company, we are working actively to stem the growing tide of ocean-bound plastics. By some estimates, there are now more than 5 trillion pieces of plastics in our oceans. Dell wants to help break this cycle by keeping plastics in the economy and out of the water. To those ends, we are creating the first commercial-scale global ocean-bound plastics supply chain. Specifically, we are processing plastics collected from beaches, waterways and coastal areas and using them as part of a new packaging system for a laptop computer.[2]

Pushing the envelope — or the frontiers of science

High-performance computing systems continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible in scientific computing. Propelled forward by a $60 million award from the National Science Foundation, Frontera will debut as the nation’s fastest academic supercomputer and one of the world’s most powerful HPC systems.[3] The supercomputer will be about twice as powerful as TACC’s Stampede2 system, which is currently the fastest university supercomputer. Dell EMC will provide the primary computing system, which will be powered by more than 16,000 Intel® Xeon® processors.[4]

The Frontera supercomputer is aptly named. “Frontera” alludes to “Science the Endless Frontier,” the title of a 1945 report to President Harry Truman that led to the creation of the National Science Foundation. In conveying the report to the president, the author, Vannevar Bush, noted: “Scientific progress is one essential key to our security as a nation, to our better health, to more jobs, to a higher standard of living, and to our cultural progress.”[5]

That statement is a true today as it was in 1945, in the days after the end of World War II. And you could add a 2018 postscript to it: Scientific progress and the advances it brings now depend heavily on computational power. That’s a point that TACC Executive Director Dan Stanzione emphasized in a news release on the Frontera system.

“NSF was born out of World War II and the idea that science, and scientists, had enabled our nation to win the war, and continued innovation would be required to ‘win the peace,’” Stanzione said. “Many of the frontiers of research today can be advanced only by computing, and Frontera will be an important tool to solve grand challenges that will improve our nation’s health, well-being, competitiveness and security.”

But who’s stopping there? Already, TACC is talking about using the Frontera system to test and demonstrate the feasibility of an even-larger future leadership-class HPC system — a supercomputer that could potentially be 10 times faster than Frontera.[6]

To learn more about the soul of this massive new machine, check out the TACC announcement and visit dellemc.com/hpc.

[1] Texas Advanced Computing Center, “Supercomputers Help Design Mutant Enzyme that Eats Plastic Bottles,” June 26, 2018.

[2] Dell Technologies, “Green Packaging & Shipping: Ocean Plastics.”

[3] Texas Advanced Computing Center, “New Texas Supercomputer To Push the Frontiers of Science,” August 29, 2018.

[4] HPCwire, “TACC’s ‘Frontera’ Supercomputer Expands Horizon for Extreme-Scale Science,” August 29, 2018.

[5] National Science Foundation, “Science, The Endless Frontier,” July 1945.

[6] Texas Advanced Computing Center, “New Texas Supercomputer To Push the Frontiers of Science,” August 29, 2018.