IBM closes in on petaflop barrier

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The IBM Blue Gene/L supercomputer. (photo credit Livermore National Laboratory).

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November 14, 2007 Astronomical figures abound in the world of supercomputing and the numbers have just become even more astounding with IBM continuing its four-year domination of the official TOP500 Supercomputer Sites List with a new world record courtesy of the Blue Gene/L supercomputer. Although the Blue Gene/L, located at the Lawrence Livermore national Laboratory in California, has held the number one position since November 2004, the system was significantly expanded this summer to deliver a sustained performance of 478 trillion calculations per second (478 “teraflops”).

This achievement makes the expanded Blue Gene/L nearly three times faster than its nearest contender and sister machine the Blue Gene/P located in the research consortium Jülich in Germany, which clocks in a 167 teraflops. Based on IBM's POWER Architecture, the IBM System Blue Gene Solution is optimized for bandwidth, scalability and the ability to handle large amounts of data while consuming a fraction of the power and floor space required by today's fastest systems.

IBM systems dominate the TOP500 rankings with a total of 232 on the list, the most of any vendor. The company also outpaces its rivals among the Top 10, with four IBM systems – all Blue Genes – taking up places. This performance places IBM in a prime position to be the first to reach the computing milestone known as a “petaflop” – the ability to process 1,000 trillion calculations every second. Petaflop computers promise exponential breakthroughs in science and engineering by providing predictive and highly detailed simulations. Earthquake simulations, for example, could show building-by-building movements of entire regions along the San Andreas fault, improving future designs of earthquake-resistant structures. IBM has several supercomputer platforms underway that it believes will lead the world into the “petascale” era. Blue Gene/P, introduced this June and purpose built to operate at a petaflop and beyond, will be targeted initially at scientific and research markets, but its expanded memory and SMP nodes makes it attractive for a broader range of applications. Also next year, supercomputers based on IBM’s latest generation of POWER processor will begin to hit the market for commercial and technical tasks such as weather forecasting, climate modeling, energy exploration, and auto and aerospace engineering.

Rounding out IBM’s petaflop portfolio will be a computer nicknamed “Roadrunner,” a hybrid design that blends thousands of PC-type processors from AMD, and the Cell Broadband Engine, the graphics processor at the heart of the Sony Playstation 3. Roadrunner, planned to be delivered to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in summer 2008, will be capable of speeds exceeding a petaflop. By combining the two styles of microprocessors, Roadrunner should slash typical power consumption to offer a highly energy-efficient operating environment.

IBM’s petascale hardware initiatives are matched with corresponding investments in software, including application support and development tools, to increase productivity, ease of use and commercial viability. Next year IBM will expand Blue Gene application support with a new open-source developers’ program with Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, which will be the first site in the U.S. to field a Blue Gene/P.

For further info visit IBM.

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