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Advancing Weather & Climate Research with New Energy-Efficient Supercomputers



Supercomputers like NCAR’s Cheyenne are helping researchers advance the understanding of atmospheric and other Earth system sciences in a highly energy-efficient way.

Supercomputing has become an essential tool for the weather and climate industry, helping researchers better model weather patterns, predict future climate change, and understand the Earth’s complex network of systems. The vast volumes of data required for these activities means that scientists are continuously investing in high performance computing (HPC) systems that can leverage this data to increase weather model accuracy and vigorously test new theories based on historical observations.

As the world’s problems continue to grow in size and complexity, a new generation of computing systems will be needed in order to further our understanding of the Earth. As the HPC industry moves toward this achievement, things like balancing performance with power consumption have become top-of-mind system design concerns. This is because, historically, the energy efficiency of large computing systems has progressed at a slower rate than performance. To achieve the level of compute performance needed to tackle these daunting challenges, next-generation computing systems will consume massive amounts of energy in order to operate and cool themselves.

However, some supercomputers are being designed with these energy-efficiency concerns in mind. The National Center for Cheyenne-450.jpgAtmospheric Research (NCAR) recently deployed a new, highly efficient supercomputer to advance the understanding of atmospheric and other Earth system sciences. Named “Cheyenne,” the system is an SGI ICE XA cluster (now available from HPE as the HPE SGI 8600) that features 145,152 Intel Xeon processor cores and 313 terabytes of total memory. Operating at a peak speed of 5.3 petaflops, Cheyenne provides triple the amount of scientific compute power than NCAR’s previous system, Yellowstone.

Cheyenne was released for production work in January 2017, and will help scientists and researchers all over the world study areas including weather prediction, wind energy, hydrology, climate change, and air quality. The system is currently ranked #22 on the Top500 list of the most powerful supercomputers, and will offer a vital service to society by helping to predict natural disasters, and improve the weather and climate projections that are relied upon by companies in agriculture, energy, transportation, and tourism. The additional compute power offered by Cheyenne will allow scientists to gain even more comprehensive, granular insight into complex processes and run models at a higher resolution.

Cheyenne has a peak computation rate of almost 3 billion calculations per second for every watt of energy consumed. Compared to NCAR’s previous supercomputer, Cheyenne is three times more energy efficient.

Just a few of the projects planned for Cheyenne include:

  • Seasonal and long-range weather modeling – Better simulations of processes in the ocean, atmosphere, and sea ice will help refine computer models and improve long-term predictions.
  • Wind energy efficiency – Simulating wind conditions on different scales and analyzing drafts will help wind farms become even more efficient.
  • Space weather – Deeper insight into solar activity will help researchers understand the damaging geomagnetic storms which threaten the operation of satellites, communications, and power grids.
  • Extreme weather – Cheyenne will explore how the climate interacts with land surface and hydrology, allowing scientists to better predict extreme weather events and provide more advance warning to affected areas.

Not only is Cheyenne breaking new ground in energy efficiency, but the facility where it resides is as well. The NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) was designed to be up to 89% more energy efficient than typical data centers. At the LEED-Gold-certified facility, almost 92% of energy goes directly to powering its supercomputers, and waste heat generated by the computing elements is captured and reused to heat administrative areas of the building and melt snow and ice on exterior areas.

Supercomputers like Cheyenne are helping the research community gain the knowledge needed to save lives and protect property, and help businesses in a variety of industries survive and compete in the marketplace. Cheyenne is one of the machines advancing this mission in a highly efficient and energy-conscious way.

For more information on the use of supercomputing in the weather and climate field, please follow me on Twitter at @VineethRam. For general updates and latest news on solutions for HPC, AI/deep learning, supercomputing, and more, please follow @HPE_HPC.

And don’t miss the open house at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center on August 12th!

Vineeth Ram
Vice President of HPC & AI Portfolio Marketing
Hewlett Packard Enterprise

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As the Vice President of HPC and AI Portfolio Marketing in the DCIG Portfolio Marketing team of HPE, I lead worldwide marketing and go-to-market planning and execution for the HPC and AI segments including the recent SGI acquisition and the HPE Apollo portfolio.

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