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ASCI Red was the first computer built under the Advanced Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI). ASCI Red was built by Intel and installed at Sandia in late 1996. The design was based on the Intel Paragon computer. The original goals to deliver a true teraflop machine by the end of 1996 that would be capable of running an ASCI application using all memory and nodes by September of 1997 were met.
It was used by the US government from the years of 1997 to 2005. It was the fastest machine on the planet until late 2000, and was used to maintain the US nuclear arsenal and simulate nuclear tests. It was the first ASCI machine that the Department of Energy acquired, and also the first supercomputer to score above one teraflops on the LINPACK
LINPACK is a software library for performing numerical linear algebra on digital computers. It was written in Fortran by Jack Dongarra, Jim Bunch, Cleve Moler, and Gilbert Stewart, and was intended for use on supercomputers in the 1970s and early 1980s...

 benchmark, a test that measures a computers calculation speed. Later upgrades to ASCI Red allowed it to perform above two teraflops. This giant boost in computing speed gave researchers and the Department of Energy a five order of magnitude increase in computing speed over the fastest computers of the time.

ASCI Red earned a reputation for reliability that some veterans say has never been beat. Sandia director Bill Camp said that ASCI Red had the best reliability of any supercomputer ever built, and
“was supercomputing’s high-water mark in longevity, price, and performance.”

System Structure

The ASCI Red supercomputer was a distributed memory MIMD
In computing, MIMD is a technique employed to achieve parallelism. Machines using MIMD have a number of processors that function asynchronously and independently. At any time, different processors may be executing different instructions on different pieces of data...

 (Multiple Instruction, Multiple Data) message-passing computer. The design provided high degrees of scalability for I/O, memory, compute nodes, storage capacity, and communications; standard parallel interfaces also made it possible to port parallel applications to the machine. The machine was structured into four partitions: Compute, Service, I/O, and System. Parallel applications executed in the Compute Partition which contained nodes optimized for floating point performance. The compute nodes had only the features required for efficient computation – they were not purposed for general interactive services. The Service Partition provided an integrated, scalable host that supported interactive users (log-in sessions), application development, and system administration. The I/O Partition supported disk I/O, a scalable parallel file system and network services. The System Partition supported initial booting and system Reliability, Availability, and Serviceability (RAS) capabilities.

The Service partition helps integrate all of the different parts of ASCI Red together. It provides a scalable host for users, and it is used for general system administration. The I/O Partition provides a file system and network services, and the Service partition is made up of the log-in screens, tools for application development, and utilities for network connections. The Compute partition contains nodes that are designed for floating point performance. This is where the actual computing takes place. Every one of the compute nodes has two 333 MHz Pentium II Xeon processors, each with a 16 KB level-1 cache
CPU cache
A CPU cache is a cache used by the central processing unit of a computer to reduce the average time to access memory. The cache is a smaller, faster memory which stores copies of the data from the most frequently used main memory locations...

 and a 256 KB level-2 cache
CPU cache
A CPU cache is a cache used by the central processing unit of a computer to reduce the average time to access memory. The cache is a smaller, faster memory which stores copies of the data from the most frequently used main memory locations...

According to Intel, the ASCI Red Computer is also the first large scale supercomputer to be built entirely of common commercially available components.

All of ASCI Red's partitions are interconnected to form one supercomputer, however at the same time none of the nodes support global shared memory. Each of the nodes works in it's own memory, and each shares data with the others through "explicit message-passing".

Technical Specifications

The Computer itself took up almost 1600 square feet of space, and is made up of 104 "cabinets". Of those cabinets, 76 are computers (processors), 8 are switches, and 20 are disks. It has a total of 1212 GB of RAM memory, and 9298 separate processors.
The original machine used Intel Pentium Pro processors each clocked at 200 MHz. These were later upgraded to specially packaged Pentium II Xeon processors, each clocked at 333 MHz. Overall, it required 850 kW of power (not including air conditioning). What sets ASCI Option Red aside from all of it's predecessors in supercomputing is its high I/O
I/O may refer to:* Input/output, a system of communication for information processing systems* Input-output model, an economic model of flow prediction between sectors...

Bandwidth (computing)
In computer networking and computer science, bandwidth, network bandwidth, data bandwidth, or digital bandwidth is a measure of available or consumed data communication resources expressed in bits/second or multiples of it .Note that in textbooks on wireless communications, modem data transmission,...

. Previous supercomputers had multi-gigaflops performance, yet their slow I/O
I/O may refer to:* Input/output, a system of communication for information processing systems* Input-output model, an economic model of flow prediction between sectors...

 speeds would slow down, or bottleneck the systems. Intel's TFLOPS PFS is an extremely efficient "Parallel File System" that can sustain transfer speeds of up to 1 GB/s, eliminating bottlenecks.

First to TeraFlop

In December, 1996, three quarters of ASCI Red was measured at a world record 1.06 TFLOPS on MP LINPACK and held the record for fastest supercomputer in the world for several consecutive years, maxing out at 2.38 TFLOPS after a processor and memory upgrade in 1999.
The system utilized Pentium Pro
Pentium Pro
The Pentium Pro is a sixth-generation x86 microprocessor developed and manufactured by Intel introduced in November 1, 1995 . It introduced the P6 microarchitecture and was originally intended to replace the original Pentium in a full range of applications...

 processors when initially constructed and when it recorded performance above one TeraFlop. In that configuration, when fully built it recorded 1.6 TeraFlops of performance. Upgrades later in 1999, to specially packaged Pentium II Xeon processors, pushed performance to 3.1 TeraFlops.

Operating System

The different partitions of ASCI Red run on different Operating Systems. For example, users of the computer work in an environment called "Teraflops OS", an operating system (once called Paragon OS) that was originally developed for the Intel Paragon XP/S
Intel Paragon
The Intel Paragon was a series of massively parallel supercomputers produced by Intel. The Paragon XP/S was a productized version of the experimental Touchstone Delta system built at Caltech, launched in 1992. The Paragon superseded Intel's earlier iPSC/860 system, to which it was closely...

 Supercomputer. ASCI Red's Compute partition runs on an operating system
Operating system
An operating system is a set of programs that manage computer hardware resources and provide common services for application software. The operating system is the most important type of system software in a computer system...

 named Cougar. Cougar is a Sandia Labs and University of New Mexico collaboration; it is a lightweight OS based on PUMA and SUNMOS
SUNMOS is an operating system jointly developed by Sandia National Laboratories and the Computer Science Department at the University of New Mexico...

, two systems that was also designed for use on the Paragon supercomputer. It consists of a light weight kernel, the Process Control Thread, and other utilities and libraries. The Linux
Linux is a Unix-like computer operating system assembled under the model of free and open source software development and distribution. The defining component of any Linux system is the Linux kernel, an operating system kernel first released October 5, 1991 by Linus Torvalds...

2.4 kernel was ported to the system and a custom CNIC driver was written, but the heavy weight OS did not perform as well as the Cougar lightweight kernel on many benchmarks.