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U.S. regains supercomputing crown, bests China, Japan

June 18, 2012 06:41 AM ET

All the European machines on the top 10 are new, said Dongarra.

IBM BlueGene/Q systems dominate the top system. The company is building systems that do not rely on accelerators and instead use its Power processors and its own interconnects, all assembled in a homogenous architecture, said David Turek, the vice president of exascale computing at IBM.

"These machines have been designed and built to solve really difficult science problems across a wide range of disciplines," said Turek.

The proof of that is in the variety of uses the IBM machines have been pegged for, which include nuclear research, earthquake prediction, life sciences, and industrial design.

Turek said architecture, rather than the brute force of processing power, is what's most important.

"The classic trick of waiting for Moore's Law to come along and help you out really doesn't exist anymore," said Turek.

The systems in the Top 500 are running processors somewhere between 2GHz and 3GHz, which is where speeds were eight to nine years ago, said Turek. "It tells you that it is parallelism and system design and architecture that carry the day here," he said.

The Mira machine at Argonne replaces a 500 teraflop system, Intrepid, which has 163,840 cores versus Mira, with 786,432 cores.

Mira is approximately 20 times faster than Intrepid and will reach 10 petaflops, or 10 quadrillion floating-point operations per second. Its chips are 16 cores versus the four cores on Intrepid.

It has 48 racks which weigh approximately two tons each. Sequoia has 96 racks. This is Argonne's first water cooled supercomputer. The transition to water was a new thing for the lab, especially for people who got into computing after the 1980s when water cooling was widely used in mainframes, said Argonne's Papka.

The water cooling has contributed to a five times more efficiency than the Intrepid machine, said Papka. Putting in the water cooling system has made the machine room "look more like a submarine," he said.

There are sensors throughout the system that monitor water pressure and any changes can trigger a shutdown, said Papka.

The system is still being tested and will begin running science later this year with it fully open to its users in 2013.

The system will be used for a wide range of scientific inquiry, and proposals for compute time will face a peer review, similar to a scientific journal. Argonne is a on a four-year upgrade cycle. It will upgrade again in the 2016-17 time period, and Papka hopes the next system is something in the range of 200 petaflops.

An exascale system - 1,000 more times powerful than a petaflop - may arrive by 2020, said Papka.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at Twitter@DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed Thibodeau RSS. His e-mail address is

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