Twilight for Titan: ORNL turns off supercomputer

The Titan supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory is shutting down after a seven-year run.

Starting Thursday it is being dismantled to make room for a successor, Frontier, expected to be the world’s most powerful computer, a title Titan once held. Titan, a Cray XK7 supercomputer, came online in 2012 as the world’s fastest, performing up to 27 quadrillion calculations per second. Operated by the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, it remained in the top 10 worldwide for seven years; as of June 2019, it ranked 12th. During those years it logged more than 26 billion core hours of computing time, serving hundreds of research teams from around the world, according to ORNL.

“Titan has run its course,” Operations Manager Stephen McNally said in an announcement. “The components of Titan are now 7 years old, and it’s really impressive that users have been successfully producing high-impact science results since the system became available to them. But the reality is, in electronic years, Titan is ancient. Think of what a cellphone was like seven years ago compared to the cellphones available today. Technology advances rapidly, including supercomputers.”

Three successive systems at Oak Ridge — Jaguar, Titan and Summit — have been dubbed the world’s fastest since 2010.

Titan’s reach

In early July, ORNL anticipated Titan’s shutdown by recalling some of its achievements. One cited was work by geologist Jeroen Tromp of Princeton University; in 2012 he proposed using the then-new Titan to image features far below the Earth’s surface.

Using earthquake waves recorded worldwide, and extrapolating to fill in gaps, Tromp’s research created a 3D model of subterranean features. A second generation model, created this year, is six times better than the first, according to ORNL.

“Titan changed everything for me,” Tromp said. “Thanks to Titan, we’ve been able to demonstrate the feasibility of global full waveform inversion. It would have never happened without Titan. That has been an amazing opportunity for me and something that I think will be lasting.” As Titan aged, it began to have system failures, so Tromp used a new tool called EnTK to quickly detect them. “If 10 jobs out of 1,480 jobs failed, EnTK could tell you exactly what 10 they were and allow you to resubmit with the push of a button,” he told ORNL. “I can’t envision doing this ever again without these kinds of tools.”

Tromp’s modeling project is among those transitioning to Summit, hoping for even better resolution.

Next generation

On May 7, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry came to ORNL for the announcement of Frontier. It’s expected to be one of the world’s first three exascale computers, capable of a quintillion calculations per second when it comes online in 2021. It will be built by Cray Inc. and Advanced Micro Devices; Cray also built Jaguar and Titan.

Frontier will cost more than $600 million, about twice the price of Summit. It will take up as much space as two basketball courts, fill more than 100 computer cabinets and weigh 1 million pounds.

The goal for Frontier is a speed of 1.5 quintillion calculations per second, or 1.5 exaflops. That’s as fast as today’s 160 most powerful computers added together, Cray President and CEO Peter Ungaro said.

Titan, its Atlas file system and the Cray XC30 Eos cluster are being cleared away to make room for Frontier.

Twenty thousand square feet of data center space will be freed up; Cray personnel will disassemble Titan and recycle its metal parts and cabinets.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel

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Published August 9, 2019