Epic 2018 HPC Road Trip begins at Idaho National Lab

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In this special guest feature, Dan Olds from OrionX begins his Epic HPC Road Trip series with a stop at Idaho National Laboratory.

Dan Olds from OrionX hits the road for SC18 in Dallas.

As a high-tech industry analyst and writer, I do a lot of research, write a lot papers and articles, and generally come off as a know-it-all about high-end computing and HPC. While I know what happens in a large data center, like those at our national laboratories, I’ve never visited a national lab in person.

The fast approach of SC18 gave me an idea: why not drive from my home base in Beaverton, Oregon, to Dallas, Texas and stop at national labs along the way? I love a good road trip and what could be better than a 5,879 mile drive with visits to supercomputer users mixed in?

So I put together a plan, got in touch with the national labs on my route, and gathered up all of my video equipment (along with a lot of junk food) and set out on the trip a week before SC18. Cray graciously sponsored the trip and helped to defray some of the costs, so a big thank you goes out to them.

I intended to get these stories and videos out a LOT sooner, but a catastrophic NAS crash and a vicious business travel schedule (coupled with my own sluggish work pace) put me way behind schedule. But these stories need to be told, even if they’re a few months out of date.

Tour Stop #1: Idaho National Lab: Not Small Potatoes

After 707 miles of driving, I made my first stop on the 2018 HPC Road Trip. Our location? The Idaho National Laboratory (INL), located in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

This is an 890 square mile facility that has a highly diverse mission, ranging from developing nuclear energy technologies, developing and scaling clean energy technologies, and making sure that nuclear materials don’t fall into the wrong hands. If that wasn’t enough, the lab also provides critical research in cyber security and energy security.

Falcon Supercomputer at INL.

The lab isn’t hurting for computing power, it’s home to the 1.1 PFlop/sec Falcon system, which is the 220th fastest supercomputer on the TOP500 list. This system is based on HPE’s SGI ICE XA architecture, containing more than 25,000 2.5GHz Intel Haswell cores, and an InfiniBand based interconnect.

INL is a big economic driver for the state of Idaho. It has 3,900 employees and more than 350 interns, which makes it the fifth biggest Idaho employer. The lab drives close to a billion in total business activity and spends more than $130 million with local small businesses.

The lab has recently broken ground on an ambitious expansion that will see INL add even more capabilities. The two new buildings will house the Cybercore Integration Center and the Collaborative Computing Center. The Cybercore building will house an advanced cybersecurity and infrastructure security research lab. The Collaborative Computing Center will host a new supercomputer that will provide research capabilities for the lab, academic research, and other institutions throughout Idaho.

The expansion will add another $102 million to the local economy and create an additional 150 high paying jobs initially with the potential to add 400 jobs over time.

INL has made history, a lot of it. This was where the first community was powered with nuclear energy. INL built and demonstrated the first Navy nuclear propulsion systems and also trained the sailors and officers on how to use them.

Check out the accompanying video to learn more about INL and how they perform their missions. In the video, we get up close and personal with a nuclear reactor through the miracle of visualization and get a firsthand look at their virtual reality driven nuclear power plant control center, plus discuss many other aspects of the lab.

Thank you to everyone at INL for being so hospitable and showing me so much. I also have to thank Cray for making this trip possible.

Stay tuned for our next tour stop, the NCAR Wyoming Supercomputer center and then NCAR headquarters – another 593 miles down the road.

Dan Olds is an Industry Analyst at OrionX.net. An authority on technology trends and customer sentiment, Dan Olds is a frequently quoted expert in industry and business publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg News, Computerworld, eWeek, CIO, and PCWorld. In addition to server, storage, and network technologies, Dan closely follows the Big Data, Cloud, and HPC markets. He writes the HPC Blog on The Register, co-hosts the popular Radio Free HPC podcast, and is the go-to person for the coverage and analysis of the supercomputing industry’s Student Cluster Challenge.

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  1. Sarah Neumann says

    Hey great story, Dan! Just wanted to let you know that INL is actually located in Idaho Falls, not Twin Falls. Anywho, thanks so much for including us!