Meet Yellowstone, The Supercomputer Saving The Planet

Superhero supercomputerThis is Yellowstone, the super hero supercomputer fighting climate change

Photo: NCAR

If a superhero is a person with unusual powers who fights evil, then a Yellowstone is a supercomputer that should wear a cape. Its mission is nothing less than saving the world from climate change.Yellowstone is a brand-new IBM supercomputer. It’s the star of a new, 153,000-sq. ft. data centre built by the National centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). 

The NCAR is a United States government laboratory filled with weather and climate scientists looking for better ways to predict things like earthquakes and hurricanes and to monitor pollution and climate change.

As of November, Yellowstone is the 13th fastest supercomputer in the world, according to Top500, which ranks the 500 fastest computers. In geekspeak, it operates at 1.5 petaflops, or a quadrillion and a half mathematical operations per second; it has 4,000 nodes, or individual computers, and 70,000 cores, or processors. To put that in perspective, the newest MacBook Pro would be one node with 12 cores.

While most brand-new, $20 million data centres are locked up tight and do not allow visitors, NCAR welcomes them. It’s owned by the American people, after all, and its mission is science and education.

Aaron Andersen, deputy director of operations for the Yellowstone project, recently took Business Insider on a VIP tour.

We got to see Yellowstone and the beautiful, new, super green facility up close.

The building is so huge, it wouldn't fit in the frame of our camera. It's so new, they haven't finished the landscaping yet.

Visitors are greeted by a giant cowboy-boot sculpture. It was a gift from the state, the University of Wyoming, and local businesses which chipped in to pay for the new facility.

Everything about this place is oversized, even the two-story foyer.

There's a large exhibit hall in the Visitor centre filled with interactive stuff.

Here's where the VIP tour begins: This is Yellowstone.

The man who led this project, Aaron Andersen, is a big guy. But Yellowstone is way bigger.

On every endcap of the supercomputer, which takes up aisle after aisle of racks, is a mural of a famous area of Yellowstone National Park. It's pretty and fitting.

This is what the guts of a supercomputer looks like. Blinking lights and wires. They generate a lot of heat.

Supercomputers rarely go down but lots of little things will break. IBMer Ben Knickerbocker fixes them.

The facility has room to host another supercomputer and there are plans to build one someday.

A U.S. flag hangs in the hallway, reminding everyone that this place belongs to the people, not a corporation.

Downstairs there are rooms filled with big pipes that make this facility energy-efficient.

The pipes are big enough to suck BI editor Julie Bort right up, Willie Wonka Style.

The pipes take the air generated by Yellowstone and use it to heat the whole building. A 45-degree angle lets air move more easily.

It uses less energy to run lots of little fans that cool the air than one great big fan. So they built a room filled with fans.

The electrical plug of a supercomputer is equally huge. There's a row of these downstairs. The building draws 1.8 megawatts, supplied in part by a nearby wind farm.

Most of the building's wiring is in the concrete floor.

Employees work upstairs. They could have had a view of the vast Wyoming plains, but they asked to look at the robotic tape drive behind the glass wall.

Even with one of the world's fastest Red Hat Linux supercomputers in the other room, the site's monitoring system runs on Windows 7.

We didn't get to meet the Scheduling Queen when we were there but she made her presence felt.

Naturally, there's a red phone. For emergencies.

The facility employs 22 people with some nice perks like an exercise room.

Upstairs there's a big meeting/rec/lunch room with a sweeping view of the plains.

Now, guess which government agency is building the biggest data centre.

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