World’s Most Powerful Private Supercomputer Will Hunt Oil, Gas

Can a supercomputer help the search for new energy sources?

French oil conglomerate Total has inaugurated the world’s ninth-most-powerful supercomputer, Pangea. Its purpose: seek out new reservoirs of oil and gas.

The supercomputer’s total output is 2.3 petaflops, which should place it about ninth on today’s TOP500 list, last updated in November. The announcement came as Dell and others prepare to inaugurate a new supercomputer, Stampede, in Texas on March 27.

What’s noteworthy about Pangea, however, is that it will be the most powerful supercomputer owned and used by private industry; the vast majority of such systems are in use by government agencies and academic institutions. Right now, the most powerful private supercomputer for commercial use is the Hermit supercomputer in Stuttgart; ranked 27th in the world, the 831.4 Tflop machine is a public-private partnership between the University of Stuttgart and hww GmbH.

Pangea, which will cost 60 million Euro ($77.8 million) over four years, will assist decision-making in the exploration of complex geological areas and to increase the efficiency of hydrocarbon production in compliance with the safety standards and with respect for the environment, Total said. Pangea will be will be stored at Total’s research center in the southwestern French city of Pau.

(Reuters also reported that petroleum rival BP is building a 2-petaflop supercomputer of its own in Houston, presumably with the same goal.)

Pangea is manufactured by SGI, built on the ICE-X platform. In a video, Total said that each blade contains four Xeon processors (most likely the E5-2600, which SGI uses), each with 32 cores and 128 Gbytes of RAM. Each M-Rack contains 72 blades, for a total of 288 processors, 2304 cores, and 9 TB of RAM. An M-Cell contains four M-Racks and 2 C-Racks for 288 blades, 1,152 processors, 9,216 cores, and 32 TB of RAM. In all, 12 M-Cells are used, with 110,592 cores, 442 TB of RAM, and 120 km of fiber-optic cable connecting it all up. Pangea also includes 12 bays, with 600 1-TB drives each, and 4 petabytes of magnetic tape for archiving data.

Cold water cooling will pump heat away from each blade. SGI’s system uses an inlet temperature of 25 degrees C, and an outlet temperature of 35 degrees C. In total, the system will consume 2.8 megawatts.

“We are proud of this leap forward in our performance which positions us in the vanguard of high technology at international level,” Yves-Louis Darricarrere, the upstream vice president of Total, wrote in a statement. “This supercomputer—15 times more powerful than its predecessor—has been specifically designed to meet the main technical challenges facing our industry. Its intensive computing capacity constitutes a key competitive asset that is an integral part of the Group’s bold exploration strategy.”

BP, then Total. How quickly before ExxonMobil follows suit?

 

Image: SantiPhotoSS/Shutterstock.com

Editor’s Note: Pangea’s computing capacity was corrected to petaflops.

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