Stanford center gets access to ‘Sequoia’ supercomputer

Feb. 20, 2013, 12:47 a.m.

Correction: In a previous version of this article, The Daily incorrectly stated that Stanford researchers have exclusive access to the Sequoia supercomputer. The Daily regrets these errors. 

Researchers at Stanford’s Center for Turbulence Research (CTR) have been granted access to a new one-million-core supercomputer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Livermore, Calif.

Exclusive access to the new supercomputer may allow researchers at CTR to make breakthroughs in modeling air flow and aeronautical engine design, according to CTR director Parviz Moin M.S. ’75 M.S. ’78 Ph.D. ’78.

The one-million-core supercomputer, called Sequoia, is the second most powerful computer in the world. The computer has a processor with a memory of 1.6 quadrillion bytes for storing calculation data and incorporates nodes of 16-core processor chips with 16 gigabytes of memory each.

“It’s a new architecture. If you want to think of it in terms of your usual desktop, a high caliber desktop with an 8-core chip, consider it as one node,” said Ivan Bermejo-Moreno, a postdoctoral fellow at the CTR. “This supercomputer has that multiplied by 120,000 times the computing power and twice that in terms of memory.”

The computer’s use is not just restricted to turbulence research, according to Moin. He said that Sequoia can also be used for dynamic heat research and structural calculations and can even simulate a beating heart.

According to Bermejo-Moreno, Sequoia is “by far one of the greenest supercomputers,” an opinion echoed by CTR Research Assistant Joseph Nichols.

“The philosophy behind the architecture is to use many cores, but not cores as powerful as other types of computers,” Nichols said. “What that does is use less electricity and also lets you cram more cores into smaller area.”

The CTR will be able to access Sequoia and Vulcan—an older supercomputer at the LLNL—until April, when the National Nuclear Security Administration will close them for governmental use.

“We are getting a chance to use them for our research before they go behind the fence,” Moin said.

According to Moin, Sequoia has the potential to facilitate major advances in the CTR’s research by closely modeling computations like the flow over an aircraft and creating more realistic simulations.

CTR’s research may also carry over into the development of commercial products. According to Moin, several aerospace engineering firms have expressed interest in incorporating technologies researched at Sequoia into their engine design process.

“In design, we do a lot of parametric studies,” Moin said. “There is no reason why the use of this computer can be limited to running just one big calculation. You can run hundreds or more calculations using the one million cores. You could even run a thousand, in which each calculation [is] using several hundred cores.”

However, Moin acknowledged the potential costs incurred by using a supercomputer like Sequoia.

“It is going to make an impact,” Moin said. “The problem is that these are very expensive machines and consume a lot of power. This one, for example, probably needs the output of the Hoover Dam to power it.”

Nitish Kulkarni '16 is a senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering. He writes about technology and breaking news, and runs online content sections. Email him at nitishk2 'at'

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