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UK AWE Awards SGI Contract

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The UK Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) has awarded SGI a contract to install its new supercomputer.

Although details of the price and exact capabilities of the system remain confidential, the new system to be installed at the AWE will consist of two SGI ICE XA systems. Each system can contain up to 512GB of RAM  and space for eight 2.5” SATA drives (HDD or SSD) per node.

The AWE's last system, Spruce, also supplied by SGI features Intel Ivy-Bridge processors which help the system to deliver a theoretical peak computer power of 1.8 petaflops. If this new system is meant to replace or compliment Spruce is unclear but it would not be unreasonable to suspect that this new system would be of at least equivalent performance.

In 2010, Bull provided the United Kingdom’s Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) with a 145 TeraFlops (trillions of calculations per second) machine. One of the latest in the range of bullx supercomputers launched by Bull in 2009. Named ‘Blackthorn’, it works alongside two other large scale bullx supercomputers, named ‘Willow’, also supplied to AWE in 2010. 

SGI’s newest system the ICE XA, SGI’s sixth generation platform, has achieved a number of successive record benchmarks since its release, including Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC) MPI2007 benchmarks for the Intel Xeon E5-2600 v3 processor.

The Atomic Weapons Establishment is responsible for the nuclear warheads in the UK's nuclear deterrent, Trident. This encompasses the initial concept, assessment and design of the warheads, through component manufacture and assembly, in-service support, decommissioning and then disposal.

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty prohibits any test that produces nuclear yield underground, underwater, in the atmosphere, or in space. As the inner core of nuclear warheads contains radioactive plutonium and uranium in close proximity to sensitive electronics, there is always the possibility that they will degrade during storage. Therefore the AWE must develop methods to verify the safety and reliability of nuclear warheads and, without testing, this has to be done through a simulation-based programme.

Building on SGI’s existing relationship with AWE for more than 12 years, the two SGI ICE XA systems will provide AWE with even greater scale and flexibility to complete scientific modelling at higher resolutions and faster processing speeds than ever before.

This will be one of the first customer installations globally for the SGI ICE XA, which introduces new methods for improving energy efficiency. The system features SGI’s new E-Cell warm water cooling technology along with optional flexible extension capabilities for accelerators and storage. As part of the new contract SGI will also provide AWE with an extensive service component that includes a dedicated on-site customer support person, full project management and an extensive installation team.  

Paul Tomlinson, Head of High Performance Computing at AWE said: ‘For each project we work on there is always a one-team approach between SGI and AWE. SGI has consistently demonstrated leadership in enabling the fast deployment and ongoing support of high performance computing systems. The professionalism and adaptability of the team at SGI has always managed to meet and exceed our expectations, even with particularly complex projects.’ 

Jorge Titinger, president and CEO of SGI said: ‘We are honoured that AWE has once again selected an SGI solution to meet their demanding requirements for high performance computing technologies and services. We have developed a longstanding and collaborative partnership with AWE. A fundamental component of our relationship with AWE is based on our world-class services capabilities, which truly differentiate SGI from our competition. We look forward to once again working in very close partnership with the onsite AWE team to deliver our new ICE XA systems.’