Blue Waters supercomputer to undergo final testing

The petascale computing project Blue Waters, which has been under construction since November 2008, is almost ready for use.

Though the supercomputer is completely installed, it still needs to go through testing. The University’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications, which operates Blue Waters, is working with Cray Inc., the company that built the system, to facilitate performance testing.

“(We are) working with Cray to test the performance of the supercomputer ... (and) collecting data to show how it will perform,” center spokeswoman Trish Barker said.

The center will have to send the test results to the National Science Foundation, the organization that funded Blue Waters, before being given final approval. Barker said it could take until the end of the year or more for the supercomputer to receive approval.

Blue Waters is among the top supercomputers in the world, Barker said. With the ability to make 11.5 quadrillion calculations per second, compared with trillions per second in the past, Blue Waters will give scientists more detailed data for their research than previous supercomputers.

“What we’re most excited about is what that system is going to mean for science,” said Cray spokesman Nick Davis. “We’re excited to build a system like Blue Waters and put in the hands of all its users and be able to see the scientific results that will come from that system.”

About 40 researchers are waiting to reach those results. One of those researchers, University physics professor Klaus Schulten, has already used an early version of the system.

The Blue Waters Early Science System ran for a few weeks in March and gave Schulten’s team the opportunity to test the system. The team also did research on the HIV capsid, which is important to understanding how HIV infects human cells.

“If you take the capsid and put water around it, then you’re ending up with a system of over 60 million atoms,” Schulten said. “Those are systems that were too large to be simulated in the old days ... but with Blue Waters, we can do such simulations.”

Schulten modeled many important properties of the capsid, but he is now waiting on Blue Waters to come online to simulate the entire capsid. He said with further experimentation, he hopes to figure out how to destabilize the virus and take away its infectivity.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Schulten said. “We took the first step right away when Blue Waters came out ... but we still need to complete it, and for that, we need Blue Waters.” 

The date by which Schulten and other researchers will be able to use Blue Waters depends on when tests are finished. But Barker said the supercomputer will likely go into operation before the opening party on March 28.

Austin can be reached at

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