Source: Times Free Press | Dave Flessner | August 16, 2019

Oak Ridge National Laboratory National Center for Computational Sciences Director James Hack, right, speaks with EPB Chairman Joe Ferguson during a tour of the Summit supercomputer on the campus of ORNL on Monday, June 10, 2019 in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The Summit is currently the fastest computer in the world. Photo by C.B. Schmelter

When the Oak Ridge National Laboratory was competing with other U.S. labs a decade and a half ago to gain the world’s fastest computer to catch up with the Japanese Earth Simulator supercomputer, Oak Ridge was not initially regarded as the favorite U.S. site.

“One of our biggest challenges in being successful at that time was that we did not have very good high-speed connectivity to this laboratory here in East Tennessee,” said Dr. Thomas Zacharia, the ORNL director who was heading the computing team at Oak Ridge at the time.

Zacharia, an Indian-born computational scientist who has lead Oak Ridge’s computational team bring a series of the world’s fastest computers to Oak Ridge during his 32-year career here, recalls meeting then Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker for the first time in the mid 1990s when the two began discussing how to use TVA fiber optic links through East Tennessee to connect Oak Ridge computers with Chattanooga.

Corker was pushing the start up of Metronet, a city-backed venture that became the predecessor to EPB’s Fiber Optics, and Corker wanted to connect Oak Ridge’s computers to the Sim Center which had recently relocated to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The computer links would use dark fiber lines along rail lines and other intercity links to eventually connect ORNL and the Sim Center to researchers in Atlanta, Nashville and ultimately on to Chicago.

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