IBM Roadrunner smashes speed barrier

The IBM Roadrunner supercomputer has smashed the superfast petaflop barrier.

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The IBM Roadrunner supercomputer has smashed the superfast petaflop barrier.

The company announced that Roadrunner - a hybrid system running AMD Opteron processors and Cell chips - sustained a speed of 1.026 quadrillion calculations per second, about twice as fast as the next fastest supercomputer, IBM's BlueGene/L.

The new machine would need a single week to run a calculation that the fastest supercomputer 10 years ago would have needed 20 years to complete.

A petaflop is a thousand trillion calculations per second. The petaflop barrier, which has been the golden ring of supercomputing since the teraflop barrier was broken 11 years ago, is a goal that many companies, including Cray, HP, Sun Microsystems, and SGI have all been shooting for.

IBM beat them to the punch but the other contenders are still at its heels. Now IBM is on to the next goal, creating an exascale system.

The Roadrunner machine broke the barrier on May 25 on its fourth attempt, according to Don Grice, chief engineer of the Roadrunner project.

"Making the number has caught everyone's imagination," said Grice. "But it's really what you can do with that number."

The supercomputer will be used at Los Alamos National Laboratory to work on national security problems, test nuclear stockpiles, run annual testing of various nuclear weapons systems and predict long-term climate change, as well as studying the universe and trying to find an HIV vaccine, according to John Morrison, leader of the high-performance computing division at Los Alamos.

Roadrunner uses 3.9 megawatts of power, which Grice noted is enough to power 39,000 100-watt light bulbs. It has 6,948 dual-core Opterons on IBM LS21 Blades, as well as 12,960 Cell processors on IBM QS22 blades. The machine, which has 80 terabytes of memory, has 296 IBM BladeCenter H racks.

It takes up 6,000 square feet, uses 57 miles of fiber optic cable and weighs in at 500,000 pounds.

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