A supercomputer that was the third-fastest machine in the world in 2008 has been repossessed by the state of New Mexico and will likely be sold for parts to three universities, local media reported last week.
The state has been unable to find a buyer for the Encanto supercomputer, which was built and maintained with $20 million in state funding. Last summer the administration of Gov. Susana Martinez took control of the supercomputer, saying the non-profit New Mexico Computing Applications Center could no longer afford to maintain the machine.
This week state officials told the Albuquerque Journal that no single buyer has emerged. As a result, the state is likely to divide the machine up and sell it by the cabinet to state universities that could repurpose the hardware.
“Barring someone offering to buy the whole machine, we can still get piecemeal use from it,” state Information Technology Secretary Darryl Ackley told the paper. “The universities have proposed to cannibalize it to put some of the assets back into service.”
Encanto is composed of 28 racks of processors. Each rack has 500 processors, for a total of 14,000 cores that together can perform 172 trillion calculations per second. UNM wants to take 10 of the computing racks. New Mexico State University wants four, and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology would take two racks.
Encanto is housed at an Intel data center in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. It features a water-cooled SGI Altix ICE 8200 cluster with a power load of 32 kilowatts per cabinet. It runs over an Infiniband network connected to the National Lambda Rail network.
The supercomputer had the enthusiastic backing of Gov. Bill Richardson, who saw the project as an economic development tool for New Mexico. But the commercial projects did not materialize, and Martinez did not support the project.
"I think that the supercomputer is a symbol of excess," Martinez said after taking office in early 2011. "We have analyzed the situation. We have seen what the previous administration has invested in it. And we have looked to see what we have gotten back in revenue. It doesn't match up. It's unacceptable to the taxpayer, so we've got to stop investing good dollars into that project because it's not proving itself to be useful whatsoever."
Here's a technical overview of Encanto from Intel in happier times for the project. This video runs 3 minutes, 30 seconds.