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Inside NASA's World-Class Supercomputer Center

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Visualization of Ares-1 main engine plume

Goetz Klopfer, NASA Exploration Systems MissionDirectorate

If you're a materials scientist at NASA's Glenn Research Center, or an engineer at the Johnson or Marshall Space Centers studying Space Shuttle flow-control valves, or any one of countless others in the agency needing a supercomputer, there's really just one place to go.

That place is the advanced supercomputing facility at the Ames Research Center here, the home of Pleiades, NASA's flagship computer, a monster of a machine that, with a current rating of 973 teraflops--or 973 trillion floating point operations per second--is today ranked the sixth-most powerful supercomputer on Earth.

The computing facility, which services about 1,500 users across NASA, according to Rupak Biswas, the agency's advanced supercomputing division chief, is somewhat of a one-stop shop for those needing the highest-end processing power NASA has to offer: the division provides not just computing power, but also a "fully integrated environment where people have access to the machine, and [where] we assist them to get the most out of the machine."

Pleiades, like most, if not all, supercomputers, is a work in progress. Debuted in late 2008 with a world No. 3 ranking and a measurement of 487 teraflops, the machine how now doubled its capacity, even as it has dropped three places in the rankings. Based on SGI's Altix ICE system, Pleiades still has room to grow, and as Biswas and his staff at the supercomputing division add more SGI racks, it will do just that.

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