ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Army researchers officially welcomed five new supercomputers with a ribbon cutting and naming ceremony Sept. 28, 2023, at the Mallette Training Center.
The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory held a user group meeting with about 250 attendees. During that event, the laboratory held its public dedication of the latest the ARL DOD Supercomputing Resource Center supercomputing systems.
The five new supercomputers, with a sixth one coming online next year, are named after the original six programmers of the world's first general purpose scientific computer, the ENIAC, which stands for Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer. It began operation on Aberdeen Proving Ground in 1947. The original six programmers were: Jean Jennings, Marlyn Wescoff, Ruth Lichterman, Betty Snyder, Frances Bilas and Kay McNulty.
ARL officials honored the families of the six women, recognizing the groundbreaking contributions they made to the development of ENIAC and the creation of the field of computer programming.
“They were, before they came to program, computers,” said Cindy Bedell, director of the DEVCOM ARL Army Research Directorate. “They were mathematicians who were studying or working as computers.”
Bedell said when presented with the new ENIAC computer, the women met the challenge by learning how to program it to accomplish its mission.
Early computer engineers designed the ENIAC primarily to calculate artillery firing tables for the U.S. Army’s Ballistic Research Laboratory, which later became a part of the Army Research Laboratory. ENIAC was completed in 1945 and first put to work for practical purposes Dec. 10, 1945.
“Today, in your pocket, on your phone, you have the computing power of the first Cray,” Bedell said, referencing the world’s first supercomputer, which debuted in 1976. “Imagine how far we’ve come.”
The Cray was produced by Cray Research. Cray supercomputers were pioneering high-performance computing systems known for their innovative designs, record-breaking speed capabilities and applications in science and research. The brand became synonymous with cutting-edge supercomputing.
During the event, Prof. Kathy Kleiman, author of the book "Proving Ground" and creator of the documentary "The Computers: The Remarkable Story of the ENIAC Programmers," showed her documentary and gave a keynote address.
“The story we are celebrating was lost for over 50 years,” Kleiman said.
In Kleiman’s documentary, she told the story about how the six women transitioned from doing calculations manually to programming the ENIAC to perform calculations in a fraction of the time. Due to a cultural focus on traditional gender roles in the1950s, the accomplishments of the ENIAC Six were overlooked and nearly forgotten for decades, she explained.
With this upgrade, the laboratory’s new supercomputer capacity exceeds the total capacity of all computers hosted at ARL since inception of the HPCMP more than 30 years ago.
The High Performance Computing Modernization Program was initiated in 1992 in response to congressional direction to modernize the Department of Defense laboratories’ high performance computing capabilities.
The HPCMP funds and oversees the operation of five supercomputing centers, called DOD Supercomputing Resource Centers, or DSRCs. The centers are operated by the Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Mississippi, the Army Research Laboratory in Aberdeen, Maryland, the Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command in Stennis Space Center, Mississippi, the Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, and Maui High Performance Computing Center in Maui, Hawaii.
As the Army's foundational research laboratory, ARL is operationalizing science to achieve transformational overmatch. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, DEVCOM leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more successful at winning the nation’s wars and come home safely. DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of the Army Futures Command.