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Still waiting for Intel's Aurora? Borealis will give you a taster

Supercomputer deadline's been and Argonne, but for now, here's a testbed for boffins

Intel has yet to deliver the much anticipated Aurora supercomputer, but the chipmaker has a consolation prize for scientists in the shape of Borealis, a scaled-down testbed for the technology that allows them to make a start on research projects.

Borealis is installed in an Intel high performance compute (HPC) lab in Oregon, and acts as a testbed for evaluating and debugging the technologies that will power the Aurora system at the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois when it is finally completed, currently slated for sometime later this year.

Intel has now released a short video showing Borealis, and describing the uses it is being put to.

Aurora was originally due for delivery in 2018 as a system based on the discontinued Xeon Phi processor family, then was replaced with another that was planned for delivery as the first exascale system in 2021, but slipped behind schedule due to delays in Intel shipping its Sapphire Rapids Xeon Scalable processors.

Borealis, which Intel started building in 2021, is much smaller than Aurora. It comprises 128 server blades, each powered by two of Intel's 4th Gen Xeon Scalable processors and six Data Center Max Series GPU accelerators.

Once completed, Aurora will have more than 10,000 server blades, and these will be based on the Xeon CPU Max Series, which Intel says is the only X86 processor with high bandwidth HBM2e memory.

This provides 64GB of memory integrated into the same chip package as the CPU cores, a similar architecture to that adopted by Fujitsu with its A64FX processor and which helped the Fugaku supercomputer based on it to take the crown as the fastest in the world – until topped by the Frontier system, the first exascale computer.

Like Frontier, Aurora is based on the HPE Cray EX architecture, but the intention of Argonne is to push its compute capabilities to exceed the 2 exaflop mark for peak performance.

According to Intel, its engineers work daily with HPE engineers and Argonne scientists to test out software and debug technical issues with Borealis, in order to smooth the deployment of Aurora.

However, as well as being a testbed, the system is also being used to conduct scientific research, with Intel citing drug discovery, molecular modelling and using AI to help build a connectome model of the neural connections in the human brain as some of the applications it has already been used for. ®

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