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A History of High-Performance Computing

To construct the latest NASA supercomputer, Columbia, the Space Agency tapped into years of supercomputing experience, dating as far back as the early 1980s, when computational fluid dynamics (CFD) computer codes originated, and as recent as 2004, when the Agency adopted novel immersive visualization technologies to safely pilot the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers. In addition, NASA looked to Silicon Valley for some extra support and found a friend it had helped back in the heyday of early microprocessing technology. In the first few years of the 1980s, Ames scientists and engineers assisted Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI), by providing technical input to improve the company's high-performance workstation product line. NASA had purchased 18 of SGI's IRIS workstations and helped make them commercially viable with several improvements. By 1984, NASA was SGI's biggest customer. SGI's payback to NASA was helping to build the behemoth Columbia supercluster. A portion of the Columbia system has been made available on a broad basis to ensure the Nation's entire science and engineering community has access to the highly advanced supercomputer architecture. Meanwhile, NASA continues to lend technical advice to support the advancement of SGI's products.
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