Roadrunner won the race to 1 petaflop five years ago.
Even supercomputers sometimes have relatively short lifespans. So it is with Roadrunner, the first supercomputer to break the petaflop barrier by posting better than 1 million billion calculations per second five years ago. Back then, it was the world's fastest supercomputer, and scientists used it to gain a better understanding of energy flow in nuclear weapons and its relation to weapon yield.
How do you make the most powerful supercomputer in the world even faster? It’s simple, really. Just keep adding components! When Japan’s K supercomputer assumed the top slot back in June, it did so thanks to a team of 68,544 CPUs working in tandem to achieve a maximum LINPACK performance rating of 8.162 petaflops. Since then, the last of its 864 racks have been installed – and that extra firepower has boosted K’s performance over the 10 petaflop barrier.
John Carmack may not want anything to do with Nvidia after the whole Rage debacle, but the driver issues that caused the programmer to call the game’s PC launch “a clusterf*ck” don’t bother governments nearly as much. Last year, China stuffed a bunch of Nvidia’s GPU’s into its Tianhe-1A supercomputer to make it the second fastest supercomputer in the world. That bumped the Cray-built Jaguar rig out at Oak Ridge National Laboratory down to the third slot. Now, the US Department of Energy’s looking to return the favor by – you guessed it – shoving a bunch of Nvidia GPUs into Jaguar to boost its performance and create a “Titan.”
The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) at the University of Texas at Austin is building a world-class supercomputer called "Stampede." It's scheduled to power on in 2013 and will solicit 20 percent of its performance from Intel's Xeon E5 series processors, and the other 80 percent from Intel's "Knights Corner" co-processors based on Intel's Many Integrated Core (MIC) architecture.
No matter what side of the Google-China shouting match you fall on, you can't help but admire the country's drive towards bigger and badder processing power. China's Tianhe-1A, capable of 2.57 petaflops per second, held the crown as the most powerful supercomputer in the world until Japan's "K Computer" blew away the competition with 8.16 petaflops last month. China's newest supercomputer is the Tianhe-1A's baby brother, creatively named the Tianhe-1.
With IBM having recently announced it was building a supercomputer with 1.6 million cores capable of 20 petaflops of computing power, its hard to get too jazzed over a single petaflop. But for Europe, breaking the petaflop barrier is something that hasn't been done, but soon will be.
IBM and German research center Forschungszentrum Juelich are collaborating to build a new Blue Gene/P System supercomputer for Europe. It will mark the first time that a supercomputer capable of delivering petaflops of performance will be located outside of the U.S.
"With speeds over a Petaflop, this new Juelich-based supercomputer offers the processing ability of more than 200,000 laptop computers," explains Professor Thomas Lippert, lead scientist of the Juelich supercomputing center. "In addition to raw power, this new system will be among the most energy efficient in the world."
The Blue Gene/P System will house 294,912 processor, 144TB of memory, and 6PB of hard drive storage contained within 72 server racks. Adding to the historical significance, it will also be IBM's first watercooled supercomputer. IBM says the use of watercooling will result in a 91 percent reduction in air conditioning units that otherwise would have been required to cool the data center.
We don't want to spook anyone wearing an aluminum foil deflector beanie, but pretty soon the U.S. government will be the owner of two more supercomputers from IBM, one of which will scale to 20 petaflops, enough power to probably be able to penetrate industrial strength aluminum to read minds.
It was less than a year ago that IBM became the first to break the petaflops performance mark, also used by the government. The new IBM BlueGene-class systems will make its home at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and will handle analysis of the U.S. nuclear stockpile (and spy on your thoughts). But the full 20 petaflops of computing power won't be available right away. The deal stipulates IBM will deliver one of its BlueGene/P systems capable of 500 teraflops by April, with a followup system called Sequoia to be delivered sometime in 2012.
"The Sequoia system will be 15 times faster than BlueGene/P with roughly the same footprint and a modest increase in pwoer consumption," said Herb Schultz, manager in IBM's deep computing group.
BlueGene/P uses a modified PowerPC 450 processor clocked at 850MHz with four cores and up to 4,096 processors in a rack. The Sequoia system uses 45nm processors with as many as 16 cores per chip running "significantly faster." Sequoia will also have 1.6 million petabytes of memory feeding its 1.6 million cores.
Sure, you overclock your rig to the bleeding edge, direct deposit your paycheck to Newegg, and are on the utility company’s watch list because of the blackouts you’ve been known to cause. Yes, you’re a badass power user, but let’s face it, none of your home-built rigs can touch these 10 beasts. So what if half of these machines only exist in the minds of sci-fi writers – their computational prowess transcends the fiction/reality plane, putting our mighty Petaflop age to shame. Peruse this list for inspiration and then get building, you’ve got some catching up to do before you can compete with the real big boys. We won’t settle until our rigs achieve sentience.
Forget about dual, quad, or even eight-core processors, all of which would prove woefully inadequate next to the system being called Blue Waters. The 200,000 processor core supercomputer got the green light at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, finalizing a contract with IBM to build the what will be the world's first sustained petascale computational system.
For anyone not up on their flops, a petaflop is the equivalent to roughly 1 quadrillion calculations per second, presumably just enough to get a decent framerate out of Crysis. Coupled with the 200,000 processor cores will be more than a petabyte of memory and more than 10 petabytes of disk storage. And yes, that would hold a lot of porn, though Blue Waters will spend its time on scintillating real-world scientific and engineering applications.
Specifically, the National Science Foundations says that Blue Waters will wade into the study of complex processes like the interaction of the Sun's coronal mass ejections with the Earth's magnetosphere and ionosphere. Other examples include the formation and evolution of galaxies in the early universe, understanding the chains of reactions that occur with livings cells, the design of novel materials, and other decidedly nerd topics that have nothing to do with propelling Folding at Home team 11108 ahead of the competition.