A Close Look at IBM’s New Supercomputer, Roadrunner

A Supercomputer, Roadrunner built specifically to crunch military data has been unveiled by IBM and Los Alamos National Laboratory boffins. It is capable of sustaining 1,000 trillion operations per second. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said the new computer will also be used to help solve global energy problems and “open new windows of knowledge” in basic research.

The Roadrunner is twice as fast as the old BluGene/L champ. The $133 million supercomputer achieved the milestone with the help of 12,960 “improved” Cell processors (like those powering your PS3) and a smaller number of AMD Opteron processors — 116,640 processor cores in total. The supercomputer is based on advanced parallel computing technologies. It takes up 6,000 square feet, weighs 500,000 pounds total, uses 57 miles of cable and requires 3.9 megawatts of power. The lessons that computer scientists learn by making it calculate even faster are seen as essential to the future of both personal and mobile consumer computing.

To put the performance of the machine in perspective, Thomas P. D’Agostino, the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, said that if all six billion people on earth used hand calculators and performed calculations 24 hours a day and seven days a week, it would take them 46 years to do what the Roadrunner can in one day.

Petaflop machines like Roadrunner have the potential to fundamentally alter science and engineering, supercomputer experts say. Researchers can ask questions and receive answers virtually interactively and can perform experiments that would previously have been impractical.

Current supercomputers measure performance in teraflops, and IBM along with Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Cray and Silicon Graphics are all competing to be the first to bust through to the petaflop, one thousand trillion calculations per second.

Source: The New York Times

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