Why Wyoming is getting another world-class supercomputer

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has announced it has decided on a new supercomputer for 2017. The new, upgraded supercomputer will offer more power and the potential for greater insights into the climate and environment. 

Alan Rogers/Casper Star-Tribune via AP/ File
The NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) "Yellowstone" supercomputer (shown above) was one of the 60 fastest computers on Earth. An upgraded supercomputer is being installed in 2017 and "Yellowstone" will take a complimentary role in the new system, NCAR announced Monday (Jan. 11, 2016).

One of the world’s most powerful supercomputers is under construction and destined for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

NCAR announced Monday that it has selected its next supercomputer for scientific research and climate modeling. The NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputer Center has been home to “Yellowstone,” another supercomputer, since 2012, when it ranked among the top 20 most powerful computers in the world. The next NCAR computer will be an upgrade, according to NCAR officials. 

NCAR’s new supercomputer, complimented by the older Yellowstone, will offer the scientific community the potential for greater insights into the environment and climate.

“Cheyenne will be a key component of the research infrastructure of the United States through its provision of supercomputing specifically tailored for the atmospheric, geospace, and related sciences,” said NCAR Director James Hurrell in the NCAR press release.

The NCAR supercomputer, named Cheyenne, is being constructed by Silicon Graphic International Corp (SGI). Cheyenne will be a 5.34-petaflop system, capable of performing 5.34 quadrillion calculations per second, according to the recent NCAR press release. Yellowstone is a 1.5-petaflop, meaning Cheyenne will able to carry out more than twice as much scientific computing.

The new computer's data-storage system will be integrated with NCAR’s current system. It will have an initial capacity of 20 petabytes and, when combined with the speed of GLADE, will offer 36 petabytes of high-speed storage, according to the University of Wyoming release. And, despite its immense computing power, Cheyenne will also be three times more energy efficient than the existing supercomputer.

The SGI-built supercomputer, with its increase in power and storage, will likely become a resource for thousands of scientists and universities around the world. Since Wyoming opened the supercomputer facility with Yellowstone in 2012, a reported 2,200 scientists and more than 300 universities have used the advanced computer power as a resource, according to UW News. High-performance computers are vital to simulating possible environmental and climate events.

In an area of research like regional climate change, Cheyenne’s computing power will allow scientists to simulate diverse climate outcomes. Predictions on which areas will be most as risk due to climate change and the sea-level rise will be able to be made based on advanced information. In other research areas, like solar energy, simulation models can help utilities calculate how much energy will be generated hours or days in advance.

NCAR predicts Cheyenne will accelerate research in streamflow, severe weather, solar energy, regional climate change, decadal predictions, air quality, subsurface flow, and solar storms. 

“Researchers at the University of Wyoming will make great use of the new system as they continue their work into better understanding such areas as the surface and subsurface flows of water and other liquids, cloud processes, and the design of wind energy plants,” Bill Gern, University of Wyoming's vice president for research and economic development, told the UW News.

The National Science Foundation and the state of Wyoming, through the University of Wyoming, will fund the building of Cheyenne. It will be housed in the National Center for Atmospheric Research Supercomputing Center and is scheduled to be installed in 2017.

The name Cheyenne was chosen in honor of the support given by the people in Wyoming's largest city and to commemorate Cheyenne's upcoming 150th anniversary, according to the NCAR press release.

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