Blacklight, World's Largest Coherent Shared-Memory Computing System, Is Operational at Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center

Issue Date: 
October 25, 2010

Now equipped with one of the world’s largest computer memory systems, the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) is carrying out the virtual grunt work for more than a dozen researchers, from simulating the Universe’s beginnings to helping shore up cybersecurity.

Behind this versatility is the PSC’s recent acquisition of the SGI Blacklight, a multiprocessor computer system purchased in part with a $2.8 million National Science Foundation grant the PSC received in July. The PSC is a collaboration between Pitt, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Westinghouse Electric Company.

Forty-three users representing 18 research groups are currently taking advantage of Blacklight’s coherent shared-memory system, which boasts both an enormous storage capacity and quick processor interaction. Blacklight consists of 512 processors and two connected 16-terabyte memory systems, the two largest coherent shared-memory systems in the world, offering the storage capacity of approximately 8,000 average laptop computers. Being a shared system, the processors can access any available memory space, while the coherent memory systems update one another. These functions are crucial for performing large data tasks quickly.

“Because of the extraordinary memory size and relative ease of programming made possible by this system’s shared-memory structure, scientists and engineers will be able to solve problems that were heretofore intractable,” said PSC scientific directors Michael Levine and Ralph Roskies in a joint statement. “For many research communities—including data analysis and many areas of computer science—it will open the door to the use of high-performance computation and thereby expand the abilities of scientists to ask and answer questions.”

The system is already being used for projects in machine learning, natural language processing, software security, analysis of molecular biology simulations, extreme-scale performance engineering, chemistry, fluid dynamics, the early universe, condensed matter, seismic analysis, and genomics.

More information about Blacklight and the PSC is available on the center’s Web site at