Say Hello to Sierra: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's New Supercomputer

Sierra is stationed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

The Bay Area is home again to one of the most powerful machines on the globe.

It's called Sierra, and it's the world's third-fastest supercomputer. Sierra, which was recently unveiled at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, will be utilized for national security purposes and to search for better treatments for cancer, among other tasks.

The 125-petaflop computer can perform 125 quadrillion floating point operations per second. For the sake of comparison, high-end personal computers can perform about 100 billion floating point operations per second.

The massive machine takes up roughly 7,000 square feet of space at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. It features 240 computing racks as well as 4,320 nodes filled with IBM central processing units and Nvidia graphic processing units.

The supercomputer will allow for modeling and simulations in 3D as opposed to 2D. Scientists are already using Sierra to try to come up with new drug therapies for treating certain types of cancers, doing research on traumatic brain injuries and conducting earthquake simulations. The supercomputer also will eventually be used to verify the country's stockpile of nuclear weapons since underground testing is no longer allowed.

Sierra requires about 12 megawatts of electricity to operate. That's enough power for about 9,000 homes.

The system generates so much heat that it must be cooled with cold water piped throughout the system and giant cooling fans.

Summit, the world's fastest supercomputer, is located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The second-fastest supercomputer — Sunway TaihuLight — is stationed in China.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is also home to Sequoia, the eighth-fastest supercomputer in the world.

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