Computerworld - Size matters in supercomputers because size translates into speed. And supercomputers are all about speed. The quest for the fastest computer to discover new drugs, crack ciphertext or model global weather and nuclear reactions has set a lot of records in a short time.
Supercomputers are defined loosely by IDC as systems that cost more than $1 million and are used in very-large-scale numerical and data-intensive applications. Today, their power is measured in trillions of floating-point operations per second, or TFLOPS.
The current world record for computing speed is 70.72 TFLOPS, posted in November by IBM's BlueGene/L system, which is destined for the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. But supercomputers run as much on the testosterone of competition as on DC power, so the latest performance benchmark isn't likely to last very long.
Claiming bragging rights as the world's fastest computer has been a 20-year game of technical leapfrog, involving almost as many companies as have been delisted by Nasdaq this year. The contest spans the globe. There's considerable national pride invested in the quest to build a faster machine to discover that next subatomic particle lurking just beyond the bandwidth of today's champ.
An architectural shift took place in supercomputing in the 1990s, and that shift was the background for a legendary wager. Gordon Bell, principal designer at the venerable and defunct Digital Equipment Corp., bet Danny Hillis that the world's fastest machine at the end of 1995 would be a supercomputer with fewer than 100 processors. Bell was betting against the inexorable march of technology, saying that the bugs could not be worked out of massively parallel machines before the deadline. Hillis, a professor in MIT's artificial intelligence lab and a founder of gone-but-not-forgotten Thinking Machines Corp., was an early proponent of massively parallel computing. Smart money backed Hillis.
Hillis lost the bet. He was slightly ahead of his time because massive parallelism is more of a software problem than a hardware problem. Software developments rarely keep pace with hardware breakthroughs.
Back then, supercomputers were measured in millions of FLOPS. Since then, even supercomputers with performance in the billions of FLOPS have been relegated to the dustbin of computing history, alongside Digital and Thinking Machines. The new IBM BlueGene/L world champ has 16,384 dual-core processors grouped in 16 clusters, with each processor linked to one of five internal communications buses.
The evolution of supercomputers is like that of factory power in the Industrial Age. The first large factories were served by big, expensive, centralized power plants driving overhead belts and pulleys that
- Silicon Valley's 19 Coolest Places to Work
- Is Windows 8 Development Worth the Trouble?
- 8 Books Every IT Leader Should Read This Year
- 10 Hot Hadoop Startups to Watch
- Slideshow: 7 security mistakes people make with their mobile device
- iOS vs. Android: Which is more secure?
- 11 sure signs you've been hacked
- Windows® XP Migration: Protect and Secure Critical Data With the end of the Microsoft Windows XP operating system's lifecycle on April 8, 2014, businesses are faced with the decision to migrate...
- Exponentially Accelerate Data Protection and Recovery with Simpana 10 IntelliSnap® Snapshot Management Technology Are you making the best use of your storage array snapshot functionality? CommVault Simpana 10 IntelliSnap technology manages hardware-based snapshots across multiple vendor...
- Meeting Changing Information Management Needs with Next-Generation Email Archiving Learn more about the ever-changing landscape of next-generation email archiving and gain insight about information management needs in this Info-Tech whitepaper.
- CIOs Deliver Productivity Breakthroughs with Intelligent Digital Signage Retailers have long recognized the influence that digital signage provides over a shopper's point-of-purchase decision making process.
- Top 4 Digital Signage Fails Join RMG Networks for a look at four of the most common reasons digital signage fails in corporate businesses. Learn about strategies to...
- Increasing the Value of Your Reports and Dashboards Learn how incorporating other analytical capabilities such as predictive modeling and visualization can increase the value of your reports and dashboards by providing... All Management White Papers | Webcasts