NOAA 2000-610
Contact: Barbara McGehan


It looks like stacks of never ending metal boxes, or maybe like storage lockers at an airport. But in reality, it's JET, one of the fastest weather research supercomputers in the world and an exciting step forward for NOAA's Forecast Systems Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.

Recently installed and tested, the supercomputer was designed and built entirely using the LINUX operating system. It will assist researchers in improving existing weather forecast models and in developing new ones.

"Ocean and meteorological models require a tremendous amount of computing power," says A. E. (Sandy) MacDonald, director of NOAA's Forecast Systems Laboratory. "This high performance computing system enables us to process large amounts of data so we can run these weather models of the future."

One high-resolution short-term weather forecast model FSL will be testing is the Weather Research and Forecast Model, a collaborative effort with NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and various universities. "The WRF model is a shorter range forecast model that will be better, faster and more accurate than anything we have available at the present time," said MacDonald.

Developed by High Performance Technologies, Inc. of Arlington, Va., the high performance computing system presently runs one third of a trillion arithmetic computations per second at the present time, a computing system 20 times more powerful than FSL's previous computer capability. By the year 2002, the HPTi supercomputer will be capable of processing in excess of 5 trillion arithmetic operations per second.

HPTi has extensive experience in dealing with large, complex and fast computing systems. "We are very excited at being able to provide this new system to FSL," says Don Fitzpatrick, president and CEO of HPTi. "FSL has a tradition of using high performance computing in innovative ways for weather forecasting research which matches very well with our ability to provide unique solutions using some of the newest technologies such as Linux, the Alpha processor and the Myricom interconnect."

The supercomputing system has been developed by HPTi in cooperation with its four core teammates, Compaq Computer Corporation, Patuxent Technology Partners, the University of Virginia, and Myricom. Compaq is providing the Alpha processors, which are the core computational components, PTP is providing an integrated storage solution from its background in Storage Area Networks, and the University of Virginia will focus on the application of advanced cluster technologies. Myricom is the provider of the ‘interconnect' that enables the high performance processors to talk to each other simultaneously.

"The interconnect between computers is a really crucial ingredient," says MacDonald. "It's like having phone lines between the computers and it needs to be extremely fast."

One project that will derive great benefit from the acquisition of the HPTi supercomputer is the North American Atmospheric Observing System, or NAOS, which is a program to design an improved upper-air observing system for the next century. The accuracy of current weather forecasts is limited to a great extent by incomplete knowledge of current conditions. The high performance supercomputer will allow scientists to conduct experiments with computer forecast models to optimize the design of future atmospheric observing networks with respect to cost and forecast accuracy. MacDonald says "Now we can use the computer to tell us what the best design for the observing system of the future will be."

MacDonald says that 40 percent of the new computer system will be used for weather prediction models, 40 per cent for NAOS, and the remaining 20 percent will be available for other NOAA research labs to use for developing ocean models and other modeling efforts.