UK nuclear-warhead maker deploys three distributed-memory supercomputers

Supercomputers will help accelerate research and scientific modelling for UK defence organisation

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'This means we can continue to underwrite the safety and effectiveness of the Trident warhead in the comprehensive test ban treaty era'


The Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), which makes nuclear warheads for the UK, has deployed three distributed-memory supercomputers.

A formal ceremony today at AWE signified the full operational status of the ICE X systems by high-performance computing firm SGI.

AWE manufactures and maintains warheads for the UK's nuclear deterrent, Trident. This encompasses the entire life cycle of nuclear warheads, from initial concept, assessment and design through component manufacture and assembly, in-service support, decommissioning and then disposal.

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty prohibits any test that produces any nuclear yield underground, underwater, in the atmosphere or in space. AWE must therefore continually develop methods to verify the safety and reliability of nuclear warheads through a science-based programme.

>See also: Man and machine: Cognitive computing in the enterprise

“It’s critical that advanced high-performance computing systems underpin our science programme and SGI’s supercomputing systems are enabling us to quickly advance research and development," said Paul Tomlinson, head of high performance computing at AWE. "Crucially, this means we can continue to underwrite the safety and effectiveness of the Trident warhead in the comprehensive test ban treaty era.

“From the very outset there was a one-team approach between SGI and AWE. We are very happy with the professionalism and adaptability of SGI to meet and exceed our expectations throughout this complex project.”

SGI’s ICE X systems were subject to a series of stringent acceptance tests and reliability runs. According to SGI, the performance achieved throughout the testing not only met but in many cases exceeded its commitments.

“As is often the case with critically important supercomputers of this magnitude, the project was subject to a demanding delivery timeline," said Jorge Titinger, president and CEO of SGI. "The dedication and expertise of our onsite services team working in close partnership with AWE ensured we completed acceptance ahead of the agreed timetable.

“Our services capabilities differentiated SGI in the bidding process and we went above and beyond to deliver on our promises.”

“Our continued commitment to AWE ensures they can address the future of nuclear weapons, and safely, strategically advance a range of scientific challenges. The SGI ICE X systems are scalable and flexible, enabling AWE to run a wide range of applications and improve scientific modelling,” said Titinger.