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Shovel-ready

By Neal Singer

Photography By Lonnie Anderson

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Upbeat groundbreaking for multi-petaflop computing center

ON YOUR MARK, GET SET . . . Eager to plunge into their symbolic breaking of bare ground to upthrust a new computing center are, left to right, Carol Meincke, Steve Fattor, Grant Heffelfinger, Dave Douglass, Tom Klitsner, Scott Collis, Carol Jones, Scott Aeilts, John Zepper, and Betty Payne. (Photo by Lonnie Anderson)

Under gray skies, on a graveled lot enclosed on three sides by chain link fences and, on the fourth, a 30-foot-high wall of aluminum siding, a group of perhaps 30 Sandians and a few outside contractors listened expectantly as Tom Klitsner of Sandia’s mission computing organization and computing research center director Scott Collis described benefits from the ultra-modern computer annex expected shortly to be erected there.

 “Thanks for joining us on this great occasion,” said Tom. He went on to invoke a Sandia benchmark of note — the Red Storm supercomputer, built and housed in the early 2000s in the building behind the aluminum wall. 

“It was one of the most influential supercomputers ever. It was copied many times over, and its design changed the way supercomputers were built. We believe this new facility will [house machines similarly influential], not just for Sandia but for the HPC community in general,” Tom said.

“Let’s start digging before it rains!”

Said Scott of the multi-petaflop computer the facility is intended to contain, “We refer to it as a prototype but it’s also going to be a large system, as much as a hundred times faster than Red Storm in performing large-scale weapons simulations.”

 The building will house all future Sandia high-performance computing systems.

Funded institutionally, the building is expected to be completed in the summer of 2018 at a cost of approximately $10 million.

New building technology, based largely on techniques explored by Sandia data center engineer David J. Martinez and collaborators, is expected to use the most advanced tools to minimize water and energy use. Green-building construction and an external solar panel field, are expected to be good enough to achieve LEED certification.

At the ceremony’s close, rather than champagne toasts, the researchers – most dressed “engineer-casual” in jeans and short-sleeve shirts — and executives picked up 12 gold-painted shovels to displace a pile of dirt and by doing so, signify their intent to mold the vacant lot to their vision.

Carol Meincke, who five years earlier began assisting Tom with initial planning of the project, called to the audience, “Let’s start digging before it rains!”

 It was a happy beginning.