CHEYENNE — The supercomputer breathes like a beast, inhaling cool air and huffing out the heat of tens of thousands of processors.
Cables snake like veins around the IBM-made computer, dubbed “Yellowstone.” The roughly $30 million machine is the centerpiece of the newly opened National Center for Atmospheric Research-Wyoming Supercomputing Center in Cheyenne.
Within a matter of weeks, the scientists will unleash the beast’s computing power on projects so complex, they could only spring from nature: What happens underground during an earthquake? Where does rain flow when it falls from the sky? How does the breeze flow around a hill and a wind turbine blade?
But for now, within a two-story, brightly lit cage, Yellowstone awaits. On Monday, state and national dignitaries squeezed giant, golden scissors, cutting the ribbon to open the $70 million center.
Gov. Matt Mead said the center would not only contribute to groundbreaking science, but serve as a marquee facility for the Wyoming technology sector’s “bright future, which includes a recently announced $112 million Microsoft data center, and a beacon to Wyoming students considering high-tech jobs.
“We can honestly say this facility will help all mankind, and that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing,” he said.
The supercomputer is row after row of black, mesh frames — 100 racks in all — holding 72,288 processor cores. The 7-foot-tall rows stretch across the data center like library bookshelves. Yellowstone ranks in the top 20 of the world’s fastest supercomputers. Yet just like cars, cell phones and computers, the next generation of supercomputers will push Yellowstone down the rankings.
But for now, Yellowstone is fast — jaw-dropping fast. The supercomputer can compute at 1.5 petaflops, or 1.5 quadrillion calculations a second.
Picture a calculation as a gallon of milk. Now fill all the rivers of the world with milk. Now triple that amount.
There aren’t any keyboards or video displays around to operate the supercomputer. Most researchers will access the supercomputer from computers at their own research institutions, including scientists and students at the University of Wyoming.
Already 11 projects are lined up for the supercomputer, with work beginning in the next few weeks, said Roger Wakimoto, the center’s director.
One such project from Wyoming scientist Po Chen will generate complex modeling of underground seismic activity, work that could result in providing earlier warnings to those who might otherwise be surprised by an earthquake.
“These simulations that will take place on this supercomputer help make our society safer; they help make our economy more productive,” said Tom Bogdan, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which manages the Boulder, Colo.-based National Center for Atmospheric Research, sponsored by the National Science Foundation.
NCAR has used supercomputers since the 1970s, but Yellowstone is 30 times more powerful than NCAR’s supercomputer at its Mesa Laboratory in Boulder.
The center is a partnership between those national groups and Wyoming groups and organizations including the Wyoming Business Council; Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power Co., and Cheyenne LEADS, the city’s economic development group.
The University of Wyoming will kick in $1 million a year for 20 years in exchange for 20 percent of the supercomputer’s resources. Wyoming contributed $20 million toward the construction of the 153,000 square-foot center.
“We’re delighted that this successful public-private partnership has delivered a major supercomputing center on time and on budget,” Wakimoto said.