2013-09-04

Co.Labs

NASA's New Quarter-Gigapixel Hyperwall Will Display Epic Earth And Space Visualizations

If hooking up your 30" monitor to NASA’s Pleiades supercomputer sounds like a dream, try the 128-screen Hyperwall 2, a 23'x10' graphical monolith that will display everything from tidal visualizations to massive images of the cosmos.



While most of us are busy wondering what will happen to post-space shuttle NASA in the age of the sequester, the agency is chugging right along, producing wonders like the Hyperwall 2, a giant quarter-gigapixel visualization wall.

Lots of groups like to build big screens, like the multi-screen 200 megapixel HIPerWall at the California Institute For Telecommunications and Information Technology, but few match the quarter-gigapixel display of NASA’s new Hyperwall 2. The new screen combines 128 LCD monitors into a stunning 23'x10' wall of visualized science, all juiced by 1,024 Opteron AMD cores and 128 NVIDIA GeForce GPUs totaling an astounding 208 GB of graphics memory. While each screen can display a “cell” of visualized scientific data, the Hyperwall 2 was built to take advantage of visualizations produced by the Pleiades, NASA’s processing workhorse.

The Pleiades is the 9th-fastest supercomputer in the U.S. and 19th in the world. It maxes out at 2.9 petaflops and is used by NASA for everything from modeling experiments to piecing together massive, stunning images of the Earth and the cosmos. The Hyperwall 2 itself has 9 teraflops of computing power on its own and 1.5 petabytes of storage space. It reads data directly from the Pleiades filesystem via 65 miles of super-fast InfiniBand cabling, the largest such network in the world.

All of the raw power is impressive, but what do they plan to do with it? Mostly, to visualize models run on the Pleiades. Displaying global tide patterns on the Hyperwall 2, for example, allows scientists to see all the tricky details of airstreams and current flows that you would miss combing through terabytes of data on a low-resolution laptop screen. The wall is also used to visualize space, as shown in the video above, from still images to timelapse simulations.

Built by Colfax International, the Hyperwall 2 runs on the SUSE Linux operating system, uses a PBS job scheduler, and runs C and Fortran programs. Pleiades itself is set to for an upgrade soon, adding an additional 3,312 Ivy Bridge nodes, which will further improve the Hyperwall 2’s performance.

[Image: Flickr user Steve Jurvetson]