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Wright-Patt’s new supercomputers to save billions in taxpayer dollars

Airman First Class Sabrina Zarate (left) and Senior Airman Melvin Williamson (right), 88th Communication Squadron server operations system administrators, perform routine maintenance on a Wright-Patterson Air Force Base computer server bank, May 11, 2017. The server operation team ensures maximum access capability to WPAFB computer systems with quick response solutions to operational malfunctions. (Al Bright/U.S. Air Force)

Highly complex, multi-million dollar supercomputers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base will now support classified data work for missions across the U.S. Department of Defense, which will save billions in defense and taxpayer dollars.

The Air Force Research Laboratory unveiled the first-ever “Shared Above-Secret Department of Defense High Performance Computing Capability” on Tuesday at its Supercomputing Resource Center, one of only four DSRC sites supported by the Department of Defense in the country.

Jeff Graham, AFRL DSRC director, said the new capability will save billions for the Department of Defense, while providing additional access to state-of-the-art computing.

Computing needs are vastly changing as security measures require the prevention of adversaries hacking data from the U.S. A large majority of defense supercomputers are focused on supporting highly classified computing, said Kelly Dalton, technical director at the resource center.

“The way organizations have done this in the past is they’ve built facilities and bought their own supercomputers to do their own work,” he said. “We have a new approach where we’re going to share these computers across different projects. In doing so, (the department is) not building all those facilities and buying all that equipment.”

This is the first time the center will support high classification computing, Dalton said. The demand for “above-secret shared supercomputing” brings a need for more secure infrastructure. An additional 7,000 square feet of classified space designed to support supercomputers is being added to Building 676 at Wright-Patterson.

Through the DoD program, the resource center also has the ability to do technology “refresh,” or upgrades, on these systems every two years. Data computed by these systems are used in the research phase, contributing to work done to develop aircraft such as the F-35 and F-22.

“A supercomputer is basically the same type of hardware you would have in your PC except these are built for high performance,” Dalton said. “These systems are built for high speed. They’re able to do computations that would take forever on a regular work station.”

Three of the super systems will be dedicated for classified work. Another additional large supercomputer will support unclassified operations and foundational work to be elevated to higher classification levels as efforts mature.

“Mustang,” the unclassified system named in honor of the P-51 aircraft flown during World War II, became operational in December 2018. The Mustang supercomputer is a $15 million Hewlett Packard SGI 8600 with 56,448 computing cores, according to the Air Force.

Mustang joins the three classified systems, “Voodoo”, “Shadow,” and “Spectre” as part of this new capability.


© 2019 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)

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