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In Pictures: A look inside what may be the world's fastest supercomputer

New Roadrunner is expected to break the petaflop barrier when tested later this month

May 13, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Taking up 6,000 square feet and weighing in at 500,000 pounds, the latest version of the IBM Roadrunner supercomputer is nearly complete.

Engineers and technicians are in the process of finishing  its assembly and expect to begin running tests within a few weeks to gauge its performance, according to Don Grice, chief engineer on the Roadrunner project. Grice said he is highly confident that the new system will break the petaflop barrier, which is akin to the four-minute mile of supercomputing.

A petaflop is 1,000 trillion calculations per second. Right now, the world's fastest supercomputer is the BlueGene/L, which runs at 478 teraflops, or a trillion calculations per second. The new Roadrunner will gain its huge power boost by using both AMD's Opteron chips and the Cell chips originally designed by IBM, Sony and Toshiba for video games.

"We will break the petascale," Grice told Computerworld. Actually, IBM is contractually obligated to hit a petaflop under its agreement with Los Alamos National Laboratory, which is buying the machine.

Once IBM finishes testing Roadrunner, it will be disassembled, loaded onto 21 tractor-trailer trucks and driven to the lab in New Mexico, where it will be put back together again.

Here are pictures of Roadrunner as it neared completion in IBM's Poughkeepsie, N.Y., facility.

Dr. Don Grice
Dr. Don Grice, chief engineer of the Roadrunner project at IBM, shows off the layout for the supercomputer, which has 296 IBM Blade Center H racks and takes up 6,000 square feet. Click to view larger image.
IBM's Roadrunner supercomputer
IBM's Roadrunner supercomputer, mapped out in this layout, takes up 6,000 square feet and weighs in at more than 500,000 pounds. Click to view larger image.
Scalable Infiniband switches
This is one of four racks of scalable Infiniband switches that are part of the supercomputer. Beside the standalone switch racks, like the one shown here, Roadrunner also has one switch rack for each connected unit, which is made up of 180 TriBlades and 12 IO nodes. There are 18 connected units in the supercomputer. Click to view larger image.
A standalone switch rack
This is the back of a standalone switch rack. There are four of these in the supercomputer. Dr. Don Grice, chief engineer of the Roadrunner project, said there are 57 miles of cable in the supercomputer that uses 3.9 megawatts of power. Click to view larger image.
The back of a standalone switch rack
A full-length view of the back of a standalone switch rack. Roadrunner is being assembled in an IBM facility in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. before it is disassembled and moved to its permanent home in the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Click to view larger image.


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