APG supercomputer

Jill McClune, vice-president of the Army Alliance, looks at a model of the new supercomputer at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The Army Alliance helped lobby for funding for the project. (BRYNA ZUMER | AEGIS STAFF, The Aegis / June 12, 2013)

Aberdeen Proving Ground continues to make computing history, as it formally unveiled a new supercomputer system Monday, one of only five such Army facilities in the country to have the sophisticated equipment.

The supercomputers, named "Hercules" and "Pershing," are IBM iDataPlex systems, featuring the latest Intel processors, and are ranked in the top 100 of the fastest computers in the world, according to the U.S. Army Research Laboratory.

"The supercomputing center's computational capacity surpasses the one petaflop barrier, or one quadrillion floating point operations per second with massive numbers of computers working in parallel on the same problem," laboratory director Thomas Russell said in an e-mail. "We are hoping to surpass five petaflop in the near future."

The Hercules computer has 360 "teraflops" and Pershing has 420. A teraflops is a measure of the number of floating point operations, or FLOPS, a computer processor can perform in a second. One teraflop is equivalent to 1 trillion floating point operations per second. A petaflop is 1,000 teraflops or one quadrillion floating point operations per second.

The Army Research Laboratory, with headquarters in Adelphi, just outside Washington, D.C., was approved to host the new supercomputer facility in 2012.

Because of its munitions testing and development and other applied research activities, Aberdeen Proving Ground has a long history with and in the development of computers, dating to the dawn of the computer age more than 65 years ago.

"The most significant change is these machines allow for physics-based computations," Charlie Nietubicz explained after a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday at the new supercomputer Aberdeen laboratory.

Nietubicz led the supercomputing center at the lab for 20 years, before retiring in 2010.

"Prior to these kinds of machines, there were a lot of physics-based computations going on but you couldn't do them in a time frame needed to give a [needed] answer," he said. "The sooner and quicker you do it, the more lives you are going to save."

Besides physics-based research, the Army uses the computers to develop new applications for systems such as up-armored combat vehicles and help with medical research.

The supercomputing research center gets about $15 million to $18 million every few years from the Department of Defense for upgrades, APG spokeswoman Terri Kaltenbacher said.

The facility that houses the center was formerly a wind tunnel research laboratory, making it ideal for storing computer systems, which need to be kept cool.

The center received the new building, with more than 20,000 square feet for supercomputing systems, last year, Kaltenbacher said.

The computers began running at the start of 2012 and are now being housed in one facility, instead of taking up three buildings, as they were before.

The lab last unveiled a supercomputer, the Harold, in 2010.

Monday's open house drew several speakers, including U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin and Patricia Falcone, associate director of national security for The White House.

It also featured a display of APG computer systems through the years, as the Army has been involved with computing since its involvement ENIAC, commonly identified as the first general-purpose computer, in the 1940s.

The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC, was Initially utilized to support the Manhattan Project near the end of World War II according to an article published earlier this year on http://www.army.mil by Elgon Hayfield of the Research, Development and Engineering Command History Office.

ENIAC was operated first at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, according to the article. In late 1946, it was dismantled and moved to the Ballistics Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, becoming operational on July 29, 1947.

Since then, APG has been home to succeeding generations of the most sophisticated computers deployed by the Army.

"This particular institution is absolutely one of the most enormous assets that we have," Lt. Col. Richard Meyers said, speaking from a soldier's perspective during Monday's unveiling. "It is, in fact, the reason a lot of our soldiers are coming home that wouldn't otherwise be coming home."