Mercury Computer, PNNL Playing Games for National Security, Cyberspace

The same computing power used in millions of game consoles may soon help tackle computational challenges in national security, cyberspace, and bioinformatics. Mercury Computer Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ: MRCY) and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are collaborating to apply multicore technology such as Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) and the Cell Broadband Engine(TM) (BE) processor to these critical applications. These technologies are currently used in game devices like the Sony PLAYSTATION(R)3.

Mercury and PNNL will combine their expertise in a new Computational Center of Excellence, with contributions from each including hardware, software tools and middleware, newly developed algorithms, and dedicated personnel.

“We’re excited to be working with PNNL, and about the possibilities of applying multicore computing technology to enable the development of economically viable computing solutions to previously intractable problems,” said Jay Bertelli, President and CEO of Mercury Computer Systems, Inc. “Early results from our collaboration show that, together, we can analyze streaming data in real time, which has been a critical challenge for data-intensive computing. Our goal is to open the door for new applications.”

In the areas of defense and security, the new computing power could be used on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to partially analyze incoming data onboard. Equipment on such platforms needs to be minimal in size, weight and power. Multicore processors consume relatively low amounts of power while processing complex and large amounts of information. With the right software, they potentially provide the ideal fit for computationally intensive applications.

“PNNL has a rich history of solving computational challenges within government and industry. This relationship with Mercury helps us take a giant leap forward in our ability to positively impact our customers’ missions,” said George Michaels, associate laboratory director for PNNL’s computational and information sciences directorate. “The marriage of our software development expertise with Mercury’s capabilities allows our experts to increase the efficiency of existing computer software applications. More importantly, it allows us to develop new areas of application for emerging processor technologies.”

Multicore processing could also improve the efficiency of cyber security for large computer networks. For example, rather than having a system that collects millions of pieces of information and then sends it to a central location for processing, the analysis could be done at a sensor that acquires or monitors the data. In the past, the processing speed needed to analyze the mountains of security data that today’s technology generates has not been available in a cost-effective suite of hardware. With more power in a compact form, a laptop-size supercomputer could become a reality for surveillance in multiple locations enabled by portable, real-time processing.

In addition to software development, PNNL and Mercury will organize workshops, consortiums, demonstration projects and prototyping of data-intensive computing appliances for both government and industry. Mercury and PNNL intend to expand membership in the Center of Excellence to investigate computer technologies that include combinations of field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), multicores such as the Cell BE processor, GPUs, analog-to-digital converters, and software tools required for high-productivity development.