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CHEYENNE — Five years after the National Center for Atmospheric Research picked Cheyenne for its new top-of-the-line supercomputing facility, workers started moving in the massive computers last week.

NCAR officials hope to have the 1.5-petaflop computer — meaning it can perform 1½ quadrillion, or 1,500,000,000,000,000, computer operations per second — operational by this fall.

The computer, which would currently rank among the 10 fastest computers on Earth, is designed to help answer science’s most fundamental, yet most complex questions about weather, from discovering how and why hurricanes and tornadoes form to predicting the effects of global warming on Wyoming and other parts of the world.

Earlier last week, workers began unloading the first of 63 refrigerator-sized IBM computers, each of which is 1,000 times more powerful than a standard desktop computer, said Bill Hanson, an IBM systems analyst.

The computers are being shipped by truck from all over the United States, said Aaron Andersen, deputy director of operations at the NCAR facility.

The computers will likely all be set in place by August, Andersen said. After testing the system for bugs, Andersen said the facility is scheduled to have its grand opening on Oct. 15.

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Andersen said once the facility comes on line, it will pay immediate scientific dividends, such as understanding more about severe storm systems and developing more accurate and more long-term weather forecasting models.

“It will enable the computer to be sort of the analogy to the Hubble telescope, enabling us to look at the atmosphere and the Earth’s system with a resolution and fidelity that we could never do before,” said Rick Anthes, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which manages NCAR, in a previous interview.

The University of Wyoming has high hopes for the supercomputing facility as well. In exchange for $20 million toward construction costs and $1 million annually for the next 20 years for computing upgrades, UW will have access to 20 percent of the supercomputer’s operations.

UW officials said such access will give the university a tremendous boost in winning more grant money, luring more prominent faculty, and having more research proposals approved.

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Contact capital bureau reporter Jeremy Pelzer at 307-632-1244.

or jeremy.pelzer@trib.com

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