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What does a Petaflop of computing power do for you?

June 19, 2008


Just ask the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, as they have announced that they will be using IBM’s Roadrunner super computer to model the extraordinary complexity of the US’s stockpiled nuclear weapons systems.

Yes that’s right, the world’s fastest super computer is being used to simulate nuclear weapon effectiveness so the US government doesn’t have to explode a real one. Imagine this amount of power in SecondLife!

When it’s not creating virtual mushroom clouds (80% of its processing time) the Petaflop beast will be able to used for other more productive work such as tackling global warming or the mathematical reasons as to why bees can fly.

So what does a Petaflop comparatively give you?

A “flop” is an acronym meaning floating-point operations per second.  One petaflop is 1,000 trillion operations per second or million billion operations per second. 

To put this into perspective, if each of the 6 billion people on earth had a hand calculator and worked together on a calculation 24 hours per day, 365 days a year, it would take 46 years to do what Roadrunner would do in one day.

Lots of laptops. That’s roughly equivalent to the combined computing power of 100,000 of today’s fastest laptop computers. You would need a stack of laptops 1.5 miles high to equal Roadrunner’s performance.

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.

Roadrunner geek facts:

  • Roadrunner is the world’s first hybrid supercomputer
  • 1 rack of the Roadrunner system = 1000 standard desktop PCs
  • Roadrunner connects 6,948 dual-core AMD Opteron™ chips and 12,960 PowerXCell 8i processors. The Opteron processors handle standard processing such as file system I/O. The PowerXCell 8i processors accelerate mathematical and CPU-intensive processing.
  • Two PowerXCell 8i-based blade servers (IBM BladeCenter® QS22) and one AMD-based blade (IBM BladeCenter LS21) are integrated into a specialized "tri-blade" configuration.
  • The machine is composed of a total of 3,456 tri-blade units, each of which can run at 400 billion operations per second (400 gigaflops).
  • Its 10,000 connections—both InfiniBand® and Gigabit Ethernet—require 57 miles of fiber optic cable.
  • The system has 98 terabytes of memory
  • Weighs 500,000 pounds
  • Housed in 288 refrigerator-sized, IBM BladeCenter racks occupying 6,000 square feet

So anyone want to guess how long till we see a Petaflop on a mobile?? 😉


US Department of Energy’s press release

IBM’s press release

IBM’s Deep Computing site (in case you want to buy one…)


Posted by Shane Williamson

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