IBM Supercomputer Expected To Blow Past Petaflop Barrier - InformationWeek

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9/8/2006
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IBM Supercomputer Expected To Blow Past Petaflop Barrier

By harnessing a processor originally built for the Sony PlayStation 3, IBM is building a machine that's expected to work at a speed of 1,000 trillion calculations per second.

Never say that nothing good comes out of computer games. By harnessing a processor originally built for the upcoming Sony PlayStation 3, IBM is building a supercomputer that's expected to smash the petaflop barrier with a speed of 1,000 trillion calculations per second.

The new computer, code-named Roadrunner, teams IBM with the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where it will be installed. Henry Brandt, a senior technical staff member with IBM, says the supercomputer will be built in two phases. The first, for which Congress laid out $35 million, is a base cluster that runs on the Linux operating system and uses IBM System x 3755 servers based on AMD Opteron technology. That system is slated to ship to the national lab next month.

But the computer's real speed boost comes late next year or early 2008 with phase two. The cluster will get an upgrade with the addition of Cell chips, designed for video game consoles. The hybrid machine will run both the AMD and Cell chips, amplifying peak performance to an expected 1.6 petaflops.

The real challenge ahead lies in building software sophisticated enough to examine a calculation and decide which processor to assign to it, Addison Snell of IDC says.

IBM's Blue Gene/L is currently the fastest supercomputer in the world, peaking at more than 280 teraflops. IBM is working to speed up Blue Gene/L and expects it to pass the petaflop barrier as well.

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