The “Encanto” supercomputer in New Mexico, once the third-fastest in the world, will likely end up stripped for parts and scrapped because the nonprofit managing it has been unable to operate it profitably.
A handful of local schools—including the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University, and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology—will divvy up the $11 million supercomputer’s 28 racks of processors, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
All three universities currently operate small Encanto replica machines, called “exemplars,” that have one rack of processors each; the additional racks could boost the computing power of those individual machines, which are used by students and faculty to run less-intensive compute workloads.
In 2008, the Encanto ranked third on the TOP500 list, which ranks the world’s supercomputers. But the SGI-built machine, which packed 14,336 3.0-GHz Xeon quad-core chips inside an Altix ICE 8200 chassis, steadily fell behind as its performance remained static. According to November’s edition of the list, the Encanto ranks 185th in the world.
And that’s a problem. “We had a number of inquiries (from potential buyers), but none panned out because of how much it would cost to run the thing,” state Information Technology Secretary Darryl Ackley told the Albuquerque Journal. At this point, the Encanto is being housed at Intel Corp., which operates a fabrication facility at Rio Rancho, New Mexico.
Interestingly, Encanto’s decline has been much more drastic than some of its rivals. In November 2009, the DOE/Oak Ridge Laboratory supercomputer known as “Jaguar” was tops in the world. By November 2011, however, Jaguar ranked third. Even after a revamp—the AMD Opteron 2.6-GHz 6-core chips it originally used were replaced with 2.2-GHz, 16-core chips—Jaguar’s ranking still fell to sixth in the June 2012 rankings.
Unlike a car, a supercomputer can be easily dismantled and its CPU cores divvied up among those who can put them to good use. But the Encanto’s legacy also highlights a lesson that every PC gamer knows by heart: every few years, PC parts become so outdated that they can barely run the latest applications. A supercomputer’s decline might not be quite so drastic, but without constant re-investment, a “supercomputer” runs steadily more like a cluster of Average Joe PCs.
Image: New Mexico Computing Applications Center