New tiny Dutch supercomputer simulates colliding galaxies

To test the new, small supercomputer, the researchers simulated the collision of the Milky Way with the Andromeda Galaxy. This clash will take place in about four billion years. Credit: Jeroen Bédorf (Leiden University)

To test the new, small supercomputer, the researchers simulated the collision of the Milky Way with the Andromeda Galaxy. This clash will take place in about four billion years. Credit: Jeroen Bédorf (Leiden University)

A team of Dutch scientists has built a tiny supercomputer with the computing power of 10,000 PCs – powerful enough to simulate colliding galaxies.

The Little Green Machine II (LGM-2) is the size of four pizza boxes but can perform 200,000,000,000,000 calculations per second. It is ten times faster than its predecessor, LGM-1, built in 2010 and retiring today.

To test the new supercomputer, the researchers simulated the collision between the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy that will occur in about four billion years from now.

Just a few years ago the researchers performed the same simulation at the huge Titan Computer (17.6 petaflops) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA. “Now we can do this calculation at home,” said astronomer Jeroen Bédorf from Leiden University. “That’s so convenient.”

LGM-2 will be used by researchers in oceanography, computer science, artificial intelligence, financial modelling and astronomy. The computer is based at Leiden University in the Netherlands and has been developed with help from IBM.

LGM-II

Photo of the Little Green Machine II. Credit: (Leiden University)

The researchers constructed the machine from four servers with four special graphics cards each, and connected the PCs via a high-speed network.

Project leader Simon Portegies Zwart from Leiden University said that the design is so compact you could transport it on a bicycle. “Besides that, we only use about 1% of the electricity of a similar large supercomputer,” he added.

Unlike its predecessor Little Green Machine I, built in 2010, the new supercomputer uses professional graphics cards that are made for big scientific calculations, rather than default video cards from gaming computers.

Also, the previous supercomputer was based on the x86 architecture from Intel, while the LGM-2 is using the much faster OpenPower architecture developed by IBM.

The name Little Green Machine was chosen because the first supercomputer is also small and consumes little power. And it is also a nod to Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered the first radio pulsar in 1967, which got nicknamed LGM-1 – where LGM stands for Little Green Men.

The construction of the small supercomputer cost about €200,000 euros and was funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research. The machine was developed in collaboration with researchers from Centrum Wiskkunde & Informatica, Amsterdam and Utrecht University, TU Eindhoven, and TU Delft, Netherlands.

 

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