iSGTW Feature - Powering discoveries: Ranger set to fuel new era of scientific discovery

Feature - Powering discoveries: Ranger set to fuel new era of scientific discovery

The 504 teraflop Ranger is pictured here with Principal Investigator Jay Boisseau and Co-Principal Investigators Karl Schulz and Tommy Minyard.
Image courtesy of TACC

Researchers now have access to an unprecedented tool for extending knowledge: Ranger-the most powerful computing system in the world for open scientific research-entered full production on 4 February at the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas at Austin, U.S.

Ranger's deployment marks the beginning of the Petascale Era-where systems will approach a thousand trillion floating point operations a second-and will greatly enhance the computing capacity of the TeraGrid, becoming the largest HPC computing resource on the U.S-wide high performance computing grid. Ranger will offer more computer cycles for calculations than all other TeraGrid HPC systems combined.

"Ranger is an incredible asset for the University of Texas at Austin, for the national scientific community and for society as a whole," said William Powers Jr., president of the University of Texas at Austin.

Jay Boisseau, director of TACC, agreed. "Ranger is so much more powerful than anything that's come before it for open science research," Boisseau said. "It will be the first time researchers in many disciplines will be able to conduct simulations they have been planning in some cases for many years."

With the ability to model complex systems on a scale never available before, scientists and engineers across all fields are expecting significant breakthroughs that expand the research universe and solve "grand challenge" questions affecting society.

Ranger offers unprecedented power to scientific applications, allowing researchers to run complex simulations in a fraction of the time previously required.
Images courtesy of the Rhea group and UT Austin, Astronomy Department and TACC

Ranger: the specs

Ranger comprises 62,976 microprocessor cores, filling a 6000-square-foot machine room in TACC's new building at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus. With a peak performance of 504 teraflops, Ranger is 50,000 times more powerful than today's PCs, and five times more capable than any open-science computer available to the U.S. science community.

Ranger is funded by a $59 million award from the U.S. National Science Foundation , covering the $30 million system and four years of operating costs.

Each year, Ranger is expected to provide more than 500 million hours of computing time to the science community, performing over 200,000 years of computational work in its lifetime.

Bigger, better, different science

Early users have tested Ranger with great success, performing landmark simulations in a fraction of the time previously needed. In the past, an allocation of one million computing hours was considered generous. Now, top projects will run up to 25 million computing hours, with more time possible in the future.

The order of magnitude increase in computing time also means simulations are no longer limited to a single, make-or-break run.

"Someone's going to get to run a landmark case, and then they're going to look at the output and see if they can do better," said Karl Schultz, TACC assistant director and chief scientist on Ranger. "That's going to lead to breakthrough science because it's the first time that researchers will be able to run at such a large scale and be able to do it with frequency."

With one of the lowest cost-per-flop ratios of any high-end system, Ranger is seen as a tremendous economic stimulator, propelling leading-edge science and technology forward and keeping the U.S. competitive. If petascale resources open up brand new avenues of research, as is believed, NSF's funding will be repaid with breakthrough discoveries far in excess of their price tag.

Designed for the future

"This is going to pay tremendous dividends to the computational science community," Ghattas said. "But now, the ball is in our court. We have to deliver."

"We have an obligation to ensure that Ranger is a tremendously useful investment," Boisseau said. "We have no doubt that over its four-year life cycle, a massive amount of research will be enabled by this system. It is our responsibility to make sure that the system is as effective as possible for groundbreaking research on a daily basis."

Funded through the National Science Foundation "Path to Petascale" program, Ranger is a collaboration among TACC, The University of Texas at Austin's Institute for Computational Engineering and Science (ICES), Sun Microsystems, Advanced Micro Devices, Arizona State University and Cornell University.

- Aaron Dubrow, Texas Advanced Computing Center