Aug. 17, 2001

ASCI White partnership celebrated

Hailing ASCI White as the "foundation of science-based Stockpile Stewardship," NNSA Administrator Gen. John Gordon led the formal unveiling Wednesday of the world’s fastest supercomputer.

"Today we mark the dedication of a tool that is important on so many levels — to the sustained future of our national security and nuclear deterrence, to the future of science and the computer industry, and to the future of this great Laboratory," Gordon told Lab employees, community leaders, visiting dignitaries and news media gathered in Bldg. 451.

ASCI White is comprised of 8,192 commercial, off-the-shelf IBM processors. It was delivered to the Laboratory in 28 moving vans and is located in Bldg. 451 in a 20,000-square-foot computer room, taking up space equal to two NBA basketball courts. Capable of performing 12.3 trillion operations per second, it was rated the world’s fastest computer in June by TOP500.

"ASCI White will give our scientists and engineers the ability to perform and visualize three-dimensional, high-fidelity simulations on all aspects of the operation of a nuclear warhead," Gordon said. "This three-dimensional simulation is key to our continuing mission of maintaining the nuclear weapons stockpile and maintaining nuclear deterrence. Using this 3-D, full physics simulation capability will give us the ability to model overall weapon performance, aging and safety.

"Essentially, it is the foundation of science-based Stockpile Stewardship to ensure that the nuclear deterrent will continue to be viable in the absence of underground nuclear testing," Gordon added.

With the supercomputer as the backdrop, the ceremonies began as ASCI Program Leader David Nowak introduced Gordon, along with Lab Director Bruce Tarter, IBM’s Managing Director of U.S. Federal Government Anne Altman and UC Vice President for Laboratory Management John P. McTague.

"ASCI White is the triumph of vision, perseverance and plain old fashion hard work," Altman said, noting that ASCI White is a 100-fold increase over the first machine IBM delivered to the Laboratory in 1996 and 1,000 times more powerful than "Deep Blue," the machine that defeated chess champion Garry Kasparov. "Moore’s Law has not and will not constrain this program."

McTague, who noted that the Laboratory has been at the forefront of large scale computing since its earliest days, said the three national laboratories — LLNL, Los Alamos and Sandia — are working together through the Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative.
"These computers are spectacular technological achievements," McTague said. "The more we operate as a system, the better we serve the nation."

Tarter, who spoke after a short video featuring Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia employees who work on ASCI White, said the supercomputer, by all accounts, is a success.

"ASCI White is now really doing the work of stockpile stewardship. This is the place at which you can say the program is a success," Tarter said. "We now have a mature, bedrock part of stockpile stewardship, which is delivering what it was designed to do."

Following the ceremony, the formalities moved to Bldg. 451’s "White" room, a special unclassified facility with a high-resolution video wall where three-dimensional, color computer simulations generated by the White machine can be viewed.

Just a few years ago, computer software with 1-million lines of code were considered gigantic and produced megabytes of output. Output today has progressed beyond megabytes to gigabytes and on to terabytes. Three-dimensional computer simulation is the only practical way to review such massive output.

Sitting inconspicuously near the wall-size screens in the White room sat another collaborative technological breakthrough developed with IBM, who devoted more than $20-million to the project.

Officially known as the "T-220" and informally called "Big Bertha," this unpretentious prototype desktop monitor is actually the world’s largest flat-panel display by pixel count. Measuring only 22 inches diagonally, the T-220 displays data on 9-million pixels.

This capacity is important because, like the wall-sized, multi-screen display nearby, the T-220 can show a complete 100-million-zone, 3-D graphic, moving the visualization from the theater to the desktop. Once development passes from the prototype to the production stage, this technology should be in place at all three nuclear weapon laboratories.

During the ceremony, Gordon reminded the crowd that ASCI White is another step toward the final goal of 100 tera-OPS (trillion operations per second).

"We plan to achieve 100 tera-OPS by the year 2005. We’re not yet halfway there. And the slope toward this goal is as steep as the one we’ve just climbed," Gordon said. "But the successful application of ASCI White is truly an encouraging step in that direction."

Following the event, General Gordon mingled briefly with the crowd at a reception at the Bldg. 451 patio, before being whisked away for the dedication of the Contained Firing Facility at Site 300 later that afternoon.
David Schwoegler of the Public Affairs Office contributed to this article.