Building a supercomputer to find oil

UK-based oil company BP is building a supercomputer with a single global, mission in mind: find more oil and gas.

UK-based oil company BP is building a supercomputer with a single, global mission in mind: find more oil and gas.

Construction has begun on a 110,000-square-foot facility that will house what BP calls the "largest supercomputing complex for commercial research in the world," a project the oil company is counting on to keep it at the forefront of seismic imaging technology.

The supercomputing facility is scheduled to open in mid-2013 at BP's Westlake Campus in Houston, BP said in a release. While, the facility is based in the United States, it has a decidedly global focus. The supercomputer will serve as a worldwide hub for processing and managing huge amounts of geologic and seismic data and allow scientists to produce clear images of rock structures deep underground.

BP already has an existing supercomputer it uses for its oil exploration. But those supercomputing needs have grown--some 10,000 times since 1999--as the days of easy-to-access oil have faded away.

International oil majors like BP, Total, Shell and Exxon are faced with a few tough choices: work in technologically complex areas like the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico or offshore Brazil; in costly regions that may have serious future environmental complications, like Canada's oil sands; or in politically unstable areas that typically come with protectionist measures.

BP scientists now have the computing power to complete an imaging project in one day that would have taken four years using technology from a decade ago, the company said. Innovation like that is important for BP, which will test 15 completely new oil and gas plays throughout the world between 2012 and 2015. About 35 of BP's exploration wells will target prospects, each with more than a quarter billion barrels of oil equivalent of potential resources.

A few High-Performance Computing facility specs:

  • housed in a three-story, 110,000-square-foot facility;
  • Equipped with more than 67,000 CPUs;
  • Expected to have the ability to process data at a rate of up to two petaflops by next year, or two thousand trillion calculations per second.
  • Total memory of 536 terabytes and disk space of 23.5 petabytes--the equivalents of 147,000 Apple iPods with 160GB of memory.

Photo: BP

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