IBM Supercomputer Sets New Speed Record

Blue Gene/L sustains a speed of 70.72 trillion floating point operations per second.

An IBM-built supercomputer being assembled for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has attained a record 70.72 trillion computations per second, the Energy Department said Thursday.

IBM's Blue Gene/L system, being assembled in Rochester, Minn., was able to sustain a speed of 70.72 trillion floating point operations per second during tests in the past month running the Linpack benchmarking software. Linpack involves solving a complex series of mathematical equations. IBM has been researching and developing the Blue Gene system as an experiment in building extremely powerful systems that take up less space and consume less power than traditional designs. Livermore next year plans to install a system four times as large as the one that set the record.

The result comes a little more than a month after IBM reported that a smaller version of Blue Gene/L eclipsed the NEC-built Earth Simulator in Japan as the world's fastest computer. The Japanese government's announcement more than two years ago that it had assembled the world's most powerful supercomputer set off a flurry of supercomputing development and interest in the field from Washington, where the technology is considered vital to American scientific and industrial competitiveness. In late September, IBM reported that a Blue Gene/L system achieved a sustained speed of 36 teraflops, edging the Earth Simulator's result of 35.86 teraflops.

Last month, Silicon Graphics said a system at NASA's Ames Research Center in California had attained a sustained speed of 42.7 teraflops. That supercomputer, named Columbia, will be used to study weather and design aircraft.

Improvements to Blue Gene's system software and compilers in the new test let it take advantage of twice as much hardware as the IBM machine that set the record in September, sys Mark Seager, assistant department head for advanced technology at Lawrence Livermore. The new system contains 16,384 computing "nodes," for a total of 32,768 processors. Livermore plans to use the completed supercomputer for a variety of scientific tasks, including safeguarding the nation's stockpile of nuclear weapons.

IBM's report arrives on the eve of a supercomputing industry conference that starts in Pittsburgh this weekend, where a group of computer scientists will release their latest closely watched list of the world's 500 fastest supercomputers. This year's conference will be most notable for "the amount of real scientific results that will be talked about," Seager says. "We're really about changing the way science is done."

Tilak Agerwala, VP of systems for IBM Research, says he doesn't expect to be surprised by "any new major technical announcements" at the conference, called SC04. Instead, he says he expects "a lot more focus on the accessibility and usability of these machines."

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