Tuesday, June 10, 2008

IBM RoadRunner SuperComputer

IBM is always at the cutting-edge of SuperComputer development, and things are no different today with the release of news about their new Roadrunner super-computer that is to be delivered to the US Nuclear Security Administration. This thing has absolutely insane levels of computing power, turning in over a Petaflop of computing ability (that is one quadrillion, or 1000 Trillion, operations per second!) As a comparison, figure that it would take between 50,000 and 100,000 of the fastest modern personal computers to equal that.

I find this type of quote (from Technology News Daily's site) really great for describing how far computing technology has come in such a short amount of time:
In the past 10 years, supercomputer power has increased about 1,000 times. Today, just three of Roadrunner’s 3,456 Tri-blade units have the same power as the 1998 fastest computer. A complex physics calculation that will take Roadrunner one week to complete, would have taken the 1998 machine 20 years to finish – it would be half done today! If it were possible for cars to improve their gas mileage over the past decade at the same rate that supercomputers have improved their cost and efficiency, we'd be getting 200,000 miles to the gallon today.
Isn't that just unbelievable? We have engineered computers whose processing power has outpaced prior generation's ability to complete a given task. So, it begs the question: why not just wait another 10 years for a faster computer before considering running more simulations or problems to solve? :) Well, the answer is obvious (I think), in that it is the current demand for computing power that drives the need for faster computers as we find more uses for the power. And, were it not for purchases of these computers, the R&D wouldn't be there to keep the pace of computing-power advancement where it is now. So, like all computers, their own success is what makes them obsolete.

Now, when the price of this power comes down from the current $100Million to something like $5,000, I'll just have to buy one for some really serious virtual-reality simulations!

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