Pentagon Inches Closer to Unleashing Two New Supercomputers

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A storage capabilities supplier shared fresh details on the in-the-making systems.

Two new and powerful supercomputers are set to enter production service for the Defense Department early this year—and when they do, they’ll be equipped with sophisticated, artificial intelligence-optimized storage capabilities for highly intensive workloads.

“DDN is supplying storage systems to both the Air Force Research Laboratory DOD Supercomputing Resource Center and the Navy DOD Supercomputing Resource Center as part of an overall solution with Penguin Computing to help the DOD advance their physics, AI and machine learning applications,” Jeff Jordan, DataDirect Network’s vice president of federal sales, told Nextgov on Wednesday.

The Pentagon first announced that it awarded California-based Penguin Computing two contracts worth a combined $68 million in September, to provide two high-performance supercomputers to the Navy and Air Force. Fresh software and machinery provided through the effort is anticipated “significantly enhance” DOD’s ability to tackle the most demanding and computationally challenging problems in fluid dynamics, chemistry and materials science, electromagnetics and acoustics, climate and ocean modeling and simulation—among other applications—officials noted at the time.

Each of the entities involved has been relatively tight-lipped about the systems since that news surfaced, but their newest-to-be-named partner DDN shed more light on the computers’ performance capabilities via its announcements this week.

“These contracts were awarded as part of the DOD High-Performance Computing Modernization Program, or HPCMP,” Jordan explained.

Launched in the early nineties in response to Congressional direction to modernize the Pentagon’s computing capabilities, the HPCMP provides supercomputers, a national research network and computational science experts that collectively enable Defense laboratories and test centers to conduct research, development, testing and technology evaluation activities.

DOD’s new systems at the Navy and AFRL DSRCs will rank among the world’s most powerful once they’re in operation. Users from across all of the department’s services and components will get to tap into the systems.

At 8.5 petaflops of performance, the Navy’s machine will replace three older supercomputers in the DOD HPCMP’s ecosystem. It will be installed at a facility operated by the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

The Air Force’s machine will be capable of 9 petaflops of performance. It will be deployed in a facility at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

Supercomputers are generally measured in flops, or floating-point operations per second. A petaflop system is capable of computing one quadrillion calculations per second.

Those added appliances for boost that DDN is supplying “are from its EXAScaler product line, which is a parallel file system product designed to supply efficient performance and cost-effective capacity for data- and compute-intensive workloads,” Jordan noted.

DDN’s parallel file system solutions are essentially designed to complement systems like the one Penguin is deploying. Because of the nature of DDN’s scalable product, Jordan added, the solutions offered can be managed as a single pool of storage or set up in a multi-tenant configuration to handle multiple concurrent projects.

The company recently announced further expansion of its federal division in an effort to better support the needs of all branches of the military, as well as other agencies such as NASA and the Homeland Security Department.

“These deployments, as well as others at the [Army Engineer Research and Development Center and Army Research Lab], are part of DDN’s ongoing engagement with the DOD to ensure that computing, storage, data security and data management needs are met for the modernization of their high-performance computing, physics research and AI needs,” Jordan said.