Air Force offers takeout service for signal processing development

ROME, N.Y. - Leaders of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) plan to offer takeout service next year for signal and image processing users across the DOD community with its new 256 gigaflop (billions of floating point operations per second) supercomputer.

Nov 1st, 1998
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By John Rhea

ROME, N.Y. - Leaders of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) plan to offer takeout service next year for signal and image processing users across the DOD community with its new 256 gigaflop (billions of floating point operations per second) supercomputer.

Installation of the supercomputer began last month at the research lab`s Information Directorate in Rome, N.Y., says Richard Linderman, head of signal and image processing computation activities within DOD`s High Performance Computing Modernization Program (HPCMP). The project should be completed within six months.

The $2.9 million system from Sky Computers Inc. in Chelmsford, Mass., consists of 384 processors in three racks that can operate as a single system or independently at user sites, Linderman says.

Another option is to access the system via the Internet. The services are free to all military users and to defense contractors, he adds. They can use the sensors at AFRL in Rome or on their own weapons platforms for development programs.

Regardless of the method of usage, the basic idea of the system is to process data from radar, sonar, optical, infrared, and other sensors and to develop new techniques in synthetic aperture radar, synthetic aperture sonar, space-time adaptive processing, automatic target recognition, and wavelet- based compressions of signals and imagery.

Other supercomputers in the past have tackled such complex and intensive problems as computational fluid dynamics and weather modeling. Yet this is considered the first system available to all services for algorithm development, real-time implementation, and field demonstration in the signal and image-processing area.

This is another step in the Defense Department`s HPCMP, which the Directorate of Defense Research and Engineering manages. DOD is investing $1.2 billion through 2003 to upgrade supercomputers.

The new machine at Rome is called the U.S. Air Force`s most powerful and about the 20th most powerful computer in the world. It represents an add-on to an Intel Paragon system installed in 1995, which has a peak rate of 90 gigaflops and cost $8.2 million, Linderman says. That works out to about 11 gigaflops per million dollars, and the Sky machine delivers about 85 gigaflops per million dollars.

Linderman says he wants to stay on that path of increasing price-performance by a factor of about 10 every three and a half years. He says he is looking for a teraflop (trillion floating-point operations per second) per million dollars by the year 2001.

The Sky computer, a ruggedized SKY channel system, beat out the computers of two other Massachusetts firms in the final down select process this summer: Mercury Computer Systems, also of Chelmsford, and CSPI of Billerica.

The heart of the system, Sky officials say, is the new Excalibur 333 module, a 6-by-6-inch-square circuit card with four PowerPC 604e microprocessors. One Excalibur 333 configured on a 6U VME motherboard delivers 2.66 gigaflops, and four Excalibur 333 daughter cards on a 9U VME motherboard deliver 10.66 gigaflops, with total performance in a single VME chassis reaching 170 gigaflops.

Linderman envisions the new system as initially supporting real-time stimulation, using either AFRL`s own sensors or those from the lab`s customers. Then he will take the system into the field for flight tests. When not deployed, the computer will be in AFRL`s Technology Division facilities in Building 106 at the Griffiss Business and Technology Park in Rome, N.Y.

Additional information about the system, including ways to access it, is available from Linderman by phone at 315-330-2164 or from the program office by phone at 703-812-8205 or on the office`s World Wide Web site at http://www. hpcmo.hpc.mil/.

Click here to enlarge image

A 384-processor computer system from Sky Computers runs the AFRL supercomputer and delivers about 85 gigaflops per million dollars.

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