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Parallel processing is the ability to carry out many tasks at the same time. Parallelism is everywhere—it’s how we speed things up. Think about roads, or farm equipment, for example. A highway with several lanes can move many more vehicles than a single-lane road. Farming tillers and combines work across several rows of crops at a time, much faster than if they worked on a single row.
Working together to accomplish a big task is a powerful idea. From ant colonies to human civilizations, coordinating large numbers of workers has enabled incredible feats to be accomplished. Similarly, computer scientists have figured out how to harness processors to work together effectively on a mathematical problem: they call such a system a parallel computer.
The speed produced by parallelism is the key to harnessing the number-crunching power needed to model the Earth system. Parallel computers tackle complex equations by divvying up the problem into smaller parts that can be solved simultaneously by many processors, saving time.
At the NWSC, our supercomputer is among the fastest in the world. It is dedicated to research about the Earth system. Just like personal electronics, such as digital cameras or cell phones, supercomputer technology improves quickly. We upgrade our equipment regularly to ensure the advancement of science.
The NWSC is the result of a partnership between University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), the State of Wyoming, the University of Wyoming, Cheyenne LEADS, Wyoming Business Council, Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power Company. The NWSC is operated by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation.
A modern smartphone is far more powerful than NCAR’s first supercomputer, known as the Cray-1A, acquired in 1977. Each replacement machine has been many times more powerful than its predecessor. Computer technology usually doubles in power about every 18 months, a rate of growth known as Moore’s Law.