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Lawrence Livermore Labs turns on Sierra supercomputer: Photos





  • The third most powerful supercomputer in the world has
    been completed and unveiled: the Sierra.
  • This supercomputer, which can do 125 quadrillion
    calculations in a second, will be used to create simulations
    that can test how safe and reliable nuclear weapons in the
    government stockpile is.
  • The Sierra is currently being used for scientific work,
    such as predicting the effects of cancer and mapping traumatic
    brain injury.

Covering 7,000 square feet and with 240 computing racks and 4,320
nodes, a classified government lab holds what looks like a
futuristic mini city of black boxes with flashing blue and green

This buzzing machine, called the Sierra supercomputer, is the
third most powerful computer in the world. It was unveiled Friday
at its home, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in
California, after four years in the making.

At its peak, Sierra can do 125 quadrillion calculations in a
second. Its simulations are 100,000 times more realistic than
anything a normal desktop computer can make. The only two
supercomputers that are more powerful are China’s
Sunway Taihulight
in second place and
IBM’s Summit
in first.

“It would take 10 years to do the calculations this machine can
do in one second,” said Ian Buck, vice president and general
manager of accelerated computing at NVIDIA.

Powering such a massive electronic brain takes about 11 to 12
megawatts of energy, roughly the equivalent of what’s needed to
power 12,000 homes — a relatively energy efficient level of
energy consumption, according to Sierra’s creators.

Right now, Sierra is partnering with medical labs to help develop
cancer treatments and study traumatic brain injury before it
switches to classified work.

Going nuclear soon

Many of the 4,000 nuclear weapons in the government’s stockpile
are aging. Once the Sierra switches to classified production in
early 2019, it will focus on top secret government activities and
it will use simulations to test the safety and reliability of
these weapons, without setting off the weapons themselves and
endangering people.

Besides assessing nuclear weapons, this supercomputer can create
simulations to predict the effects of cancer, earthquakes and
more. In other words, it can answer questions in 3D.



The lab and the Department of Energy worked with
, NVIDIA and Mellanox on this project. Talks for Sierra
began in 2012, and in 2014 the project took off. Now, it’s six to
ten times more powerful than its predecessor, Sequoia.

What makes the Sierra notably different is the NVLink, which
connect Sierra’s processing units and gives it more powerful

“What’s most fascinating is the scale of what it can do and the
nature of the system that opens itself to the next generation
workload,” said Akhtar Ali, VP of technical computing software at

. “Now these systems will do the kind of breakthrough
science that’s pervasive right now.

The lab also installed another new supercomputer called Lassen,
which will focus on unclassified work like speeding cancer drug
discovery, research in traumatic brain injury, and studying
earthquakes and the climate.

Sierra’s not the last supercomputer the lab will build. They’re
already planning the next one: “El Capitan,” which can do more
than a quintillion calculations per second — 10 times more
powerful than the colossal Sierra.

The lab expects to flip the switch on El Capitan sometime in the
2021 to 2023 time frame. 

In case you’re wondering, the supercomputers are all named after
natural landmarks in California. 

And no, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories spokesperson
Jeremy Thomas says, there are no plans to use the Sierra
supercomputer for bitcoin mining.

“While it would probably be great at it, mining bitcoin is
definitely not part of our mission” Thomas says. 



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