April 26, 2011

Is the National Security Agency Building an Exaflop Supercomputer using $895.6 million ?

The National Security Agency is designing a new $895.6 million supercomputing center that will be constructed at its Fort Meade, Md., headquarters over the next several years, Department of Defense budget documents reveal. The NSA's new High Performance Computing Center, slated to be complete by December 2015, will be designed to with energy efficiency, security, and lots of "state-of-the-art" computing horsepower in mind, according to unclassified specs found in the documents.

* Power requirements are 60 megawatts

There is another supercomputer that is being completed, which shows that the higher power requirement of the NSA facility supports the estimation that the NSA is building an exaflop supercomputer. The IBM "Sequoia" BlueGene/Q supercomputer will be 20 petaflops and use 6 MW of power. It is scheduled to be delivered to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2011 and fully deployed in 2012.

The NSA will be using ten times as much power as the Sequoia. The NSA would only need to have 5 times the energy efficiency for computing and they would be able to get to 1 exaflop.

The 2012 Sequoia design will perform 3GFLOPS/watt, about 7 times as efficient as the Blue Gene/P design it is replacing, and more than 5 times as efficient as the current (as of 2008) leader. So a 5 times gain in computing efficiency would be the normal amount of improvement. As part of Intel's Tera-Scale research project, the Intel team produced an 80 core CPU that can achieve over 16 GFLOPS/Watt. That level of efficiency would almost be enough for an exaflop with 60 megawatts of power. The 2015 NSA machine will need about 17 GFLOPS/Watt to get to an exaflop.

UPDATE - Ten times the budget and ten times the power level could also accelerate the ZettaFLOP supercomputer to 2022. $9 billion and 600 Megawatts could do it. There would be a lot more project risk and construction schedule risk and the need for construction innovation.

NSA is requesting $84.7 million for its new High Performance Computing Center in fiscal 2012, including $35 million for planning and design. That will be followed up with a planned $399.9 million in fiscal 2013, and $431 million to complete the center in fiscal 2014.

In addition to the supercomputing center and a few non-tech related construction projects, the budget documents also indicate a $246.4 million 2012 request for NSA's new cybersecurity data center under construction at Camp Williams, Utah and a $68.6 million request for a new generator at NSA's communications intercept site at RAF Menwith Hill in England.

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