Atomic Weapons Establishment's supercomputer hat trick

The UK Atomic Weapons Establishment’s third supercomputer will be used to maintain warheads for the Trident nuclear ballistic missile.

Named ‘Blackthorn’, the supercomputer from Bull will work alongside two other large scale Bullx supercomputers – co-codenamed ‘Willow’ – supplied to AWE earlier this year (2010). The latest addition is more powerful, and it is designed mostly to process large single projects, while the Willows platforms will continue working on multiple smaller scale concurrent projects.

Blackthorn is among the first supercomputers to use the latest Intel six-core Xeon ‘Westmere’ chip, and comprises 2160 (six-core) processors in 1080 blades with 750Tb of storage. The system will deliver a peak performance of 145 TeraFlops (trillions of calculations per second).

High speed Disk Arrays were provided by DDN and Voltaire InfiniBand is used as the high-speed, low-latency interconnect. Job Scheduling is implemented using ‘Moab’ software from Adaptive Computing, which allows researchers to log projects which are then allocated depending on capacity, balancing workloads across the AWE’s Bullx trio.

“Blackthorn has a power consumption, under load, of 380KW, which easily beats the 500KW target the organisation had set Bull,” says AWE computing facilities manager John Dolphin. “This means that [it] is three-to-four times more powerful than the supercomputer it is replacing, yet consumes half the electricity.”  

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