IBM & Department of Energy Unveil Petaflop Superco
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IBM and the US Department of Energy today announced an historic milestone in computing, which has enormous implications for a variety of issues critical to society, such as climate change, alternative energy, and financial services. IBM's "Roadrunner" supercomputer, installed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to protect the US's national security, hit one-thousand trillion calculations per second, or a "petalfop," in sustained performance.
To put the mind-boggling performance in context, it would take the entire population of the earth -- about six billion people -- each working a handheld calculator at the rate of one second per calculation, more than 456 years to do what Roadrunner can do in one day.
The performance, which is two-times today's number one supercomputer (from IBM) and three-times the closest competitive system, is driven by the world's first "hybrid" supercomputer -- one that uses Cell processors (the same chips that power today's most popular video games on the Sony Playstation 3), off-the-shelf x86 processors running on standard IBM blade servers, and Linux..
The concept of hybrid systems is an important breakthrough -- it paves the way with sotware that allows a diversity of commercial and consumer technologies to be linked together for any purpose from a large, shared website to a supercomputer working on a single problem. The Cell processor is dramatically faster at certain calculations allowing the RoadRunner system to be a small fraction of the size it would need to be using conventional PC or server proecssors. For this reason, IBM expects Roadrunner to place among the top energy-efficient systems later this month when the official "Green 500" list of supercomputers is announced.
As a result, Roadrunner ushers in a new era for the Internet and Cloud Computing. Until now, supercomputers were isolated, standalone behemoths dedicated to one kind of exotic workload. But given Roadrunner's first-of-a-kind design -- backed by IBM's $6B R&D investment and experience in building these supersystems -- it can provide massive computing power to mainstream applications, shifting computing resources where needed. It is the first step toward such hybrid systems driving Google-sized networks made for both industry and consumer applications.
This is an important development as computing becomes more central to everyday life -- and hybrid supercomputers with massive processing power will be central to the equation. Consider that the next generation of digital TVs will be internet-enabled; there are two billion cell phone users now -- a third the world's population; the number of text messages every day exceeds the world population; by 2010 there will be1 billion transistors per human (compared to 60 million per human at the turn of the century); and computer data doubles every 18 months -- and you can see the significance.
Today's milestone begins an era of tackling larger problems and simulating bigger and more complex systems across industries. For example:
o Financial Services: Looking at financial risk around the world to predict ripple effects of events around the world.
o Entertainment: Create much more elaborate and realistic worlds on film, TV, games and in internet virtual worlds.
o Medicine. Drive down the cost and improve the acuracy of treaments that can be modeled more effectively before humen trials, speed vaccines for desease and dramatically improve the medical imaging used to diagnose and treat desease.
o Weather and climate..create more accurate predictions of major weather events that are dificult to preduct like huricanes and tsunamis, and model climate change patterns based on complex scenarios.
o Oil and gas production. More accurately map underground reservoirs, and analyze the data acquired visually by scientists in the field.