New Mexico's Already-Outdated Supercomputer to be Chopped and Shopped

© NMCAC
In 2008, the state of New Mexico invested $11 million in what was then a state-of-the-art supercomputer, with hopes that it would draw tech jobs and scientists wanting to use the computing power for their projects. But a lot can happen in the world of computing in five years, and the Encanto supercomputer, once ranked as the third-fastest in the world, looks like it may end up being parted out to various organizations, as the cost to keep it running has outpaced its capabilities.

Encanto, a 14,000 core (3,500 Intel four-core Xeon processors) setup with 28TB of memory and 172TB of storage - capable of processing 172 trillion calculations per second - was touted as capable of being financially "self-sustaining" in 2008, but due to the incredible speed of advancements in computer technology since then, is no longer ranked even in the top 100 fastest machines, and costs an estimated $2 million per year to maintain.

Encanto was considered to be reasonably power-efficient when it was built, but between then and now, processor manufacturers have increased the core count and lowered the thermal envelopes of their fastest machines, with the result being that the performance per watt of this machine is dismal when compared to others:

"Encanto burns 861 kilowatts, which works out to 154.7 megaflops per watt sustained performance. The 17.6 petaflops hybrid CPU-GPU "Titan" supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory burns 8.21 megawatts, delivering 2,142 megaflops per watt. That's performance per watt improvement by a factor of about 13.8." - The Register

According to the Albuquerque Journal, the State of New Mexico reclaimed Encanto from the New Mexico Computing Applications Center (which has managed the machine since its inception) because the nonprofit has incurred significant debt in maintaining it. The state has been entertaining the option of selling the entire setup, but because the technology is now dated, Encanto is said to only be worth several hundred thousand dollars in its entirety.

The only other viable option is to part out the machine and use the pieces to augment other state institutions' computing power or to be used as backup or spare parts. The Journal says the the University of New Mexico may take 10 of the 28 processing racks, New Mexico State University may take four of them, and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology may take two.

Some of the originally proposed uses of Encanto included water modelling, wildfire simulations, and city planning, as well as using some of the processing power to enable better and more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) educational opportunities in the state of New Mexico. But as it stands now, it appears that this formerly extraordinary machine may end up as bits and pieces that merely act as additions or backups for computers currently in use at other state institutions - a rather sad and dreary end for what was once considered a great opportunity for technology in New Mexico.

Tags: Computing | Technology