Welcome to the PowerWall!

The University of Minnesota in collaboration with Silicon Graphics, Inc., Ciprico, Inc. and IBM Storage Products Division, has successfully constructed and demonstrated a high performance, high resolution visualization system called the PowerWall. On display in Silicon Graphics Booth #401 at Supercomputing '94, this system consists of two POWER ONYX supercomputers, each equipped with 8 MIPS R8000 processors, 2 GB main memory, 15 fast/wide SCSI-2 I/O channels, 2 HiPPI channels, 12 Ciprico disk arrays (192 GB total per system), 2 RealityEngine2 graphics engines, and 2 Electrohome Marquee 8000 projection screen displays.

The POWER Onyx graphics supercomputer is based on the 64-bit MIPS RISC R8000 microprocessor which offers a SPECfp92 of 310. The R8000 microprocessor is the first superscalar implementation of the MIPS architecture and is designed for symmetric multiprocessing so that multiple processors can be closely coupled within the same computer.

Display Hardware

The PowerWall's display is a single 6 foot by 8 foot screen illuminated from the rear by a 2 by 2 matrix of Electrohome video projectors. These projectors are driven by 4 RealityEngine2 graphics engines. Each projector provides a resolution of 1600x1200 pixels (~2 MegaPixels), making the entire PowerWall resolution 3200 x 2400 pixels (~8 MegaPixels). The Ciprico disk arrays supply the RealityEngines with more than 300 MegaBytes per second of data in order to display smooth motion animation across the entire viewing area. The PowerWall does not consist solely of a high resolution display system; it is in itself a supercomputing system. In the configuration set up at Supercomputing '94, the PowerWall is an integrated visualization system connected by a HiPPI network to the POWER CHALLENGEarray distributed parallel processing system which includes large and extremely fast disk storage systems for raw or image data and many powerful Silicon Graphics MIPS R8000 processors.

PowerWall Purpose

The primary purpose of the PowerWall is to visualize and display very high resolution data from large scientific simulations performed on supercomputers or from high resolution imaging applications. In addition to this high resolution, the PowerWall provides a large 6 foot by 8 foot display area to facilitate collaborations of small groups of researchers using the same data. All the collaborators can see the display clearly and without obstruction, and the rear-projection technology makes it possible to walk up to the display and point to features of interest, just as one would do while discussing work at a blackboard.

The PowerWall can be used as a Virtual Reality (VR) system as well by utilizing specialized software for navigating through data sets. These data sets could come from computer simulations or for example, satellite observations of terrain and data archives such as meteorological or geological archives. These data sets can be accessed by applications running on the Silicon Graphics systems that drive the PowerWall. As the user explores the data sets, the PowerWall also becomes a window onto the virtual world of the simulation.

At the Supercomputing '94 demonstration, the PowerWall is used to explore interactively a data set taken from the largest simulation to date of homogeneous, compressible turbulence, a simulation carried out a year ago by the University of Minnesota team using an array of 16 20-processor Challenge XL servers from Silicon Graphics. Raw data representing the velocity field in the simulation is rendered into images with the Power Challenge Array and displayed interactively on the PowerWall. This turbulence simulation produced a data set of half a terabyte. The PowerWall enables scientists to put entire data sets of this size on line for fully interactive exploration. The ultimate intended result is of course the scientific insight which alone can be obtained by viewing all the data interactively from any angle using any desired method of visualization.

Hardware Vendors

Silicon Graphics, Inc. is the leading manufacturer of high-performance visual computing systems. The company delivers interactive three-dimensional graphics, digital media and multiprocessing supercomputing technologies to technical, scientific and creative professionals. Its subsidiary, MIPS Technologies, Inc., designs and licenses the industry's leading RISC processor technology for the computer systems and embedded control markets. Silicon Graphics has offices worldwide and headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Ciprico Inc., an ISO certified company, designs, manufactures, markets, and services disk arrays and SCSI adapters for high-performance visual computing markets. The company's products are sold worldwide to professionals in the scientific computing/visualization, satellite/telemetry. oil and gas, film and video, medical imaging, prepress, and video service industries. Applications in these industries require high performance, capacity, and fault tolerance from storage subsystems such as Ciprico's RAID disk array. Ciprico markets its products through a direct sales force, independent representatives, and VARs and is headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota with offices worldwide.

The PowerWall Team

The University of Minnesota team is headed by Dr. Paul Woodward, a Professor of Astronomy at the University of Minnesota. Woodward is also the Director of the Laboratory for Computational Science and Engineering, formerly Graphics and Visualization Officer at the University's Army High Performance Computing Research Center and is a Fellow of the Minnesota Supercomputer Institute. He has been involved in scientific visualization of fluid flows, and in high-speed computer animation of images from supercomputer simulations in particular, since 1986. The fluid flow simulations performed by his group in Minnesota on supercomputers built by Cray Research, Thinking Machines, and Silicon Graphics were carried out using the Piecewise-Parabolic Method (PPM) which he developed with collaborators at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and at the University of Minnesota. The PowerWall team at Minnesota includes Thomas Ruwart, David Porter, Kevin Edgar, S. Anderson, Michael Palmer (visiting from Caltech), Russell Cattelan, Thomas Jacobson, Jeff Stromberg, and Thomas Varghese.


Construction of the PowerWall would not have been possible without the generous donations from its contributors. The construction of the PowerWall system -- the display, the disks, the tape system, and the computing and image rendering engines -- was supported by the industrial partners already mentioned and by the Army Research Office, the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Research, the National Science Foundation, and NASA.

(Note: if you made a contribution to the PowerWall and would like to have it mentioned in this page, please let us know.)

Silicon Graphics is a registered trademark and POWER Onyx, POWER CHALLENGEarray and RealityEngine2 are trademarks, of Silicon Graphics, Inc. MIPS is a registered trademark and R8000 is a trademark of MIPS Technologies Inc.