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NEWS | March 24, 2017

New Vanguard Supercomputer Launches on Anniversary of Vanguard Project

By Gabrielle Gibert

On March 17, 1958, the Vanguard I satellite was launched into Earth’s orbit. Part of NRL’s Vanguard Program, this satellite was the first of three successful Vanguard launches, spawning America’s first solar-powered foray into space carrying scientific experiments. From the Vanguard Project spawned the establishment of the first Real-Time Computing Center, a program that calculated orbit trajectory in real time to facilitate signals from the satellite to the surface below.

Nearly sixty years later, the name Vanguard takes on a “launch” of another meaning, in a different sector of the computing world. The Center for Computational Science (CCS) of the Naval Research Laboratory re-launched the supercomputer formerly codenamed the Y Objective Distributed Architecture (YODA) and renamed the new and improved product the Vanguard System.

The CCS Vanguard is a high performance computing system stationed at NRL. Instead of computing orbit signals in space, Dr. Sergio Tafur, a physicist at the CCS and lead on the Vanguard System revamp, explains that this supercomputing system supports computational science efforts across multiple research disciplines at NRL.

According to Tafur, YODA consists of over 512 individual compute elements, or 1,474,560 single/491,520 double precision arithmetic logic units, amassed onto seven racks, such that the supercomputer provides 1,536 single /512 double precision peak TeraFlops. To match what a 1,000 TeraFlops computer system can do in just one second, you'd have to perform one calculation every second for 31,688,765 years.

The Vanguard System takes the upwards of 250 kilowatts of power utilized by YODA and compartmentalizes it into a smaller composite form factor that maintains, if not improves, the 417 TeraFlops of HPL Linpack performance at less than a fourth of the size.

On choosing the name “Vanguard,” Tafur reiterates the significance of the term. “Vanguard means innovation,” he said. “In NRL’s case, we have a history of creating new and applicable technologies that better not just the Navy, but DOD HPC capabilities as well. Using the name ‘Vanguard’ keeps that name close to home, linking the word back to us and the initial Vanguard Project.”

The new Vanguard System maintains the standard of its satellite namesake by being one of the premiere NRL computing systems to compute power at its current rate and size. The system launched March 17, 2017 on the 59th anniversary of the Vanguard I satellite launch.

These graphs show how each building block of Vanguard will help improve the performance of YODA. In aggregate each node being added to Vanguard can perform up to 142 single/72 double TeraFlops; up from 22.4 single/6.4 double TeraFlops from YODA’s nodes. (Performance measurements were conducted at the SC16 conference in coordination with Orange Silicon Valley)

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