We all know Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) as the company that has historically made high-end workstations for creating and rendering 3D animations for games and movies. But there is a whole other side to the company that many are probably less aware of. This very lucrative part of SGI feeds high-performance computing (HPC) solutions to the government and military. (Interesting tidbit: Silicon Graphics once owned the supercomputing company Cray.) And now it looks like some of SGI's recent implementations are helping to keep the U.S.'s nuclear weapon stockpile in check.
SGI announced that has installed a storage environment made up of 17 InfiniteStorage 4600 systems at the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Energy Administration's Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This storage solution can hold more than 1.8 Petabytes of data, and can transfer that data up to a sustained rate of 72GB/Sec. This particular storage solution has a very high-minded purpose: It houses the data from the large-scale simulations of nuclear weapon stockpile lifecycles, performed by Sandia scientists.
Nuclear weapons have only been around for a little bit more than half of a century. As such, there is still a lot scientists don't know about how the nuclear weapons and other radioactive materials from nuclear weapons manufacturing degrade over time. Making matters even more complex, to date there still is no permanent storage facility for nuclear waste materials--all current nuclear storage facilities are considered temporary. (Considering that Plutonium has a half-life of 24,100 years, it's difficult to image any storage facility as truly permanent.) Therefore, it is essential that scientists continually monitor nuclear stockpiles, both active and otherwise."Few endeavors in science are more crucial than evaluating the nuclear arsenal for safety, security, and reliability, and that's the mission of Sandia National Laboratory"
-- Kurt Kuckein, RAID product line manager, Silicon Graphics.
The SGI InfiniteStorage 4600 installation at Sandia monitors only the active U.S. nuclear stockpile. But without the ability to run simulations, scientists would be left with little choice but to dispose of aging weapons via underground detonations. Data collected during these simulations could also, perhaps, be used to better monitor the aging stockpile of inactive weapons as well as other radioactive waste materials.