US Energy Dept. announces new Nvidia-powered supercomputer

The Perlmutter will more than triple the computational power currently available at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing (NERSC) Center.

The US Department of Energy on Tuesday announced that it's bringing online a new pre-exascale supercomputer in 2020, at the National Energy and Research Computing Center (NERSC). The heterogeneous system, called Perlmutter, comprises both CPU-only and GPU-accelerated cabinets. It's expected to deliver three times the power of Cori, the world's tenth-fastest supercomputer currently housed at NERSC.

Perlmutter, featuring Nvidia GPUs, will be NERSC's first large-scale GPU system. Earlier in the year, the DOE unveiled Summit and Sierra, two other pre-exascale supercomputers featuring Volta GPUs. Pre-exascale systems are one generation away from being capable of performing a billion billion calculations in one second.

The Perlmutter is the first NERSC system specifically designed for large-scale simulations as well as data analysis from experimental and observational facilities. NERSC scientists are processing huge amounts of data from radio telescopes, particle accelerators, electron microscopes and other types of sensors.

The system includes a new Cray interconnect, code-named Slingshot, designed for data-centric computing; direct liquid cooling; and an all-flash scratch filesystem that will move data at a rate of more than 4 terabytes/sec. By using both CPU and GPU-accelerated nodes, NERSC intends to maximize the productivity of its diverse mix of applications, according to Nick Wright, chief architect of the Perlmutter system. The Cray Shasta architecture supports both AMD EPYC CPUs and accelerators, including AMD Radeon Instinct GPUs.

"While the adoption of GPUs will benefit many codes immediately, others will require more preparation," Wright said in a statement. Nearly half the workload running at NERSC could leverage GPU acceleration, a recent NERSC study found.

The Perlmutter is named in honor of Berkeley Lab's Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist Saul Perlmutter. It has a total contract value of $146 million, including multiple years of service and support.

"Continued leadership in high performance computing is vital to America's competitiveness, prosperity, and national security," US Energy Secretary Rick Perry said in a statement. "This advanced new system, created in close partnership with US industry, will give American scientists a powerful new tool of discovery and innovation and will be an important milestone on the road to the coming era of exascale computing."